November 24, 2017, 10:50 pm
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The gift of the papacy

JESUS went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 

Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 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. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

***

Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew is of fundamental importance for understanding the Church. After Peter makes a profound confession of faith, asserting that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” he is declared “blessed.” Then Jesus promises to build his Church on the solid rock of Peter, who is given “the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.” 

Catholics believe that Jesus’ promise to Peter is one of several key aspects integral to the foundation of the Church. However, in reality, it is the entire life, teaching, mission, and person of Jesus that constitute a comprehensive understanding of the Church’s foundation.

Gratitude for the Papacy. We are deeply grateful that the Lord has provided his Church with the Petrine or papal ministry, an assurance that “the jaws of death will not prevail against it.” The Pope, following Saint Peter, continues to play a crucial role in guiding and maintaining the unity of the Catholic Church. Thus, as Pope, Francis has the awesome responsibility of leading and strengthening a Church that has more than one billion members worldwide. 

According to the Vatican website, the Pope has eight official titles, among them are “Bishop of Rome,” “Vicar of Jesus Christ,” “Successor of the Prince of the Apostles,” “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church,” and “Servant of the Servants of God.” However, most Catholics are comfortable to simply call him “Holy Father,” since they see in him a loving, caring father, a man filled with the mercy of God.

Yes, we are genuinely grateful that the Lord has endowed his Church with a visible leader who seeks to show us how to follow Christ in the daily events of our lives. We all need and appreciate such role models and credible examples of living the faith in today’s complex world.

Expanding Our Vision. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, a significant ecumenical study by Catholic and Protestant scripture scholars focused on the role of the papacy in the Universal Church; it was published as Peter in the New Testament (R. Brown et al.). This helpful exegetical study concludes that in New Testament thought, Peter is viewed through several images: “Great Christian Fisherman” (a missionary role), “Shepherd” (pastor of the sheep), “Christian Martyr” (giving his life for the sheep), “Receiver of Special Revelation” (close companion of Jesus), “Confessor of the True Christian Faith” (guarding against false teaching), and as a “Weak and Sinful Man” (denying Jesus, yet renewed in Christ’s love).

As Catholics, we appreciate these New Testament images showing the role of Peter as encompassing a wide variety of tasks and services. Transposed to today’s situation, the Pope is called to serve the Church—and the wider world—in various roles. Thus we understand in a more profound way how the Pope serves the faith and unity of Christians today.

Habemus Papam. Deo Gratias. When a new pope’s election is announced, these words are used: “We have a pope!” (Habemus papam). And, the rejoicing people exclaim: “Thanks be to God!” (Deo gratias). The joy of having a Pope is not only felt at the time that a new pope is elected. We truly rejoice to always have a Pope, a key figure in the Church, a visible sign of Christ’s love, an exemplary figure to strengthen our faith, a sinful-yet-holy man to show us how to be Jesus’ missionary disciples. We have a Pope! Rejoice! 

***

– Fr. James H. Kroeger, MM
– (Aug. 27, 2017)
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