On yesterday's Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Benedict XVI bestowed the pallium, a narrow circular woolen band signifying authority, upon 34 new metropolitan archbishops. During the ceremony, the Holy Father reminded the new bishops of their call to shepherd their flocks as Peter and the other apostles did.
In his homily, the Pope spoke about the First Letter of St. Peter, explaining the significance of the role of bishop by emphasizing how Peter describes Christ as "shepherd and guardian of ... souls" while, in the same context, the Greek text uses the word “episcopos,” which means bishop.
"It is surprising the Peter should call Christ Himself bishop, bishop of souls," Benedict said. "What this means is that He sees us from God's perspective. Looking from God's standpoint gives an overall view, the dangers are evident but also the hopes and the possibilities. From God's perspective one sees the essence, one sees the inner man.”
“If Christ is the bishop of souls, the aim is to ensure that man's soul does not become impoverished, that man does not lose his essence, his capacity for truth and love,” the Holy Father continued. “In this perspective, being a bishop, being a priest, means ... making oneself available to human beings that they may find life."
"The word 'bishop' is closely related to the word 'shepherd,'" the Pope said, explaining how the pastor "must be capable of resisting the enemy, the wolves; he must go before, show the way, maintain the unity of the flock. ... This is what being a pastor, model to the flock, means: living the word now, in the great community of holy Church."
The Holy Father spoke of the duty of the bishops to “understand the reason of the faith” so as not to “allow it to remain mere tradition.” Addressing those gathered, he said, “Part of our duties as pastors is to penetrate the faith with our minds in order to show the reasons for our hope in the disputes of our age. ... Faith must not remain a theory, it must become life.”
The Pope continued, “The true sickness of souls is defined by St. Peter as ignorance, in other words as non-knowledge of God.” Noting that at the beginning of his Letter, St. Peter states “that the outcome of our faith is the salvation of souls,” Benedict went on to say that "lack of concern for souls, inner impoverishment of man, destroys not only the individual but threatens the destiny of all humankind.”
The Pope also spoke about cultivating the virtue of obedience, as opposed to the “coexistence with falsehood that pollutes it.” Leading a life rooted in truth begins by obeying “the small truths of daily life, which can often be tiring and painful. This obedience then extends to unreserved obedience towards Truth itself, which is Christ. Such obedience makes us not only pure, but above all free for service to Christ, and so to the salvation of the world,” Benedict taught.
In closing, Pope Benedict told the new archbishops that the pallium they were about to receive "reminds us of the flock of Jesus Christ, which you must feed in communion with Peter. ... It reminds us of the fact the He, supreme Pastor, made Himself a Lamb in order to assume all our destinies, to carry us and heal us from within."