THE ROCK THAT IS PETER
February 22, 2014
Today’s gospel: Matthew 16:13-19
Today is the Feast of the Chair of St Peter. St Peter was the first pope. Since then there has been an unbroken succession down to the 266th pope today, Pope Francis. There is only one Church that traces its origin to Peter, and that is the Roman Catholic Church.
What are the realities about our Church and the pope?
First, the Church is built upon the rock that is Peter. “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” (v.18a). Jesus is the Rock, and Peter is the rock. They are our solid foundation of faith. Now notice that Jesus does not say I am building my church and I will place Peter as its head. What Jesus says is that the focal point is Peter, and the Church is built upon the foundation that is Peter. Not the Church and then Peter, but Peter and then the Church.
This is significant. Today there are many Christian Churches, as there have been various schisms throughout the history of the Church (Orthodox Oriental Churches in 451, Eastern Orthodox in 1054, Protestant Reformation in 1517, Anglicanism in 1535, etc.). Today there are three main streams of Christianity, with many others interspersed–Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant. But only the Roman Catholic Church is built upon the rock that is Peter. Many of the other churches in fact reject the primacy of the pope, who holds the Chair of Peter.
This has a particularly crucial consequence. Jesus asserts that “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (v.18b). No matter what, the true Church of Jesus will survive and will not be overcome by the power of death, which comes from the evil one. Today we see that the Protestant Churches by and large have succumbed to the culture of death, approving of contraception, divorce, abortion and same-sex unions. The Roman Catholic Church is the only strong institution standing against the global forces assaulting faith, family and life. The liberal Protestant churches are in steep decline. The Catholic Church is under tremendous assault from without, and struggles with an enemy within. But while the Protestant churches will disintegrate, the Roman Catholic Church will survive and thrive.
Second, when Jesus asked his disciples whom they thought he was, it was Simon Peter who said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (v.16). That answer was very significant, such that Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” (v.17). Direct revelation by God the Father is not commonplace. God usually reveals His ways to us through Jesus His Son or through the Holy Spirit. But on the verge of his very important appointment as the rock on which the Church would be founded, God the Father revealed the true identity of Jesus to Peter. Today, as the Vicar of Christ, as the head of Jesus’ body on earth, as successor to Peter, as the rock on which the Church is built, the pope has special access to God. God reveals to him the realities about Jesus and his saving work. As the ultimate authority in the Catholic Church, the pope has papal infallibility.
Third, the pope holds the keys to heaven. “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” (v.19a). The way to heaven is through the church that Jesus established. Only in the Roman Catholic Church is the fullness of authentic and authoritative Christian teaching. Protestants who accept and live out their churches’ teaching on the acceptability and morality of such things as contraception, divorce, abortion and same-sex unions, are not gaining entry into heaven. The Roman Catholic Church is the barque in which we are with Jesus and Peter, riding through the storms of life. Peter exercises authority over the Church on earth, and submitting to that authority helps assure us of entry into heaven.
Fourth, given that the Church is built on the rock that is Peter, given that the Father reveals things directly to Peter, given that Peter holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven, God gives Peter corresponding authority over His Church and affirms his actions done in His name. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (v.19b). This could refer to excommunication. Whatever it is, what is important is that such crucial acts of Peter on earth are accepted and bound in heaven.
The popes are the successors of Peter. What God intended Peter to be and to do, God intends the popes to be and to do (though in human weakness there were also bad popes). The Church is founded on the rock that is Peter. The Church cannot be overcome by the gates of the netherworld. Peter holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven. It is the Church that is given her mission, to do the work of evangelization so that people may meet Christ and be able to answer the question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (v.13b). It is the Church that then shows the way for those who meet Christ to now live Christ, through authoritative teaching and Christian formation. This is so that they can enter heaven, with Peter welcoming them through its gates. And it is the Church that sends her children off to share Christ. Jesus, because his time had not yet come, “strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.” (v.20). That is no longer the case. Since before he ascended into heaven, Jesus tells all his disciples to tell everyone that he indeed is the Messiah.
Viva il Papa!
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God bless you.
“For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.” (Phil 1:21)