The Chair of Saint Peter – February 22nd
Readings: 1 Pet 5:1-4; Mt 16:13-19.
1/ Reading I: RSV 1 Peter 5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. 2 Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, 3 not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory.
2/ Gospel: RSV Matthew 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
I. THEME: St. Peter’s authority and the Church’s leadership
Some of us don’t correctly understand about the Church’s authority, structure and leadership, so when we face problems related to the Church, we have a tendency to criticize and to discard the Church’s authority. Some think the Church can solve problems just by loving, adapting and listening to people. This is not a wise concept because if all are equal in standing, who shall take the role to protect the truth and to do God’s will?
Today readings give us some deep understanding about the authority and the leadership in the Church. In the first reading, St. Peter, the first pope advised all the Church’s leaders not to govern the Church as the civil leaders; but to lead people with love and good examples. Their rewards aren’t in money, fame or power, but in the rewards of the next life. In the Gospel, Jesus set Peter as the first leader of his Church. He also promises him, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Even the powers of death shall not prevail against it.
1/ Reading I: Do not dominate over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
1.1/ The way to lead in the Church: To understand the way to lead according to God’s way, even the Twelve must be taught by Jesus. In the Gospels, Jesus corrected them many times about their misunderstanding about the authority and the way to lead, because they always thought according to the human ways. They want to have the highest authority to be well-known among people, to acquire material gains and to give commands for people. Jesus didn’t say the authority isn’t important, but he taught them the way to use authority which is completely opposite with the worldly way. St. Peter was permeated with his master’s teaching, so he also advised the Church’s leaders as follows, “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed.” According to him, there are two important principles of leading according to Christ’s way:
(1) To lead with love for God and others: St. Peter advised the Church’s leaders, “Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly.” The Church’s leaders must do all things out of their love for God, and because of it, they also love people as their brothers and sisters. Leading out of love is much different than for profits.
(2) To lead by good examples: St. Peter continued, “Not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.” The worldly leaders show their authority by giving commands; the Church’s leaders exercise it by doing the lowly works for their people to follow.
1.2/ The rewards of their leadership: The worldly leaders pay attention to temporal and destructible rewards which they acquire in this world; the Church’s leaders should aim at the eternal and indestructible rewards which God shall grant them in the next life, as Peter stated, “And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory.”
2/ Gospel: Christ gives to Peter and his successors the authority to lead the Church.
2.1/ Two different views about Christ: The dialogue between Jesus and his disciples showed these two different views about Jesus’ true identity. When they came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they said, “Some said John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Peter is the first who recognized and acclaimed Christ as the Son of God because he didn’t view him according to his outside appearance as the contemporary; but according to God’s revelation. Similarly, when the Catholics look at the pope, the Church’s structure and her leaders, they shouldn’t view him as a worldly leader and her structure as a civil structure as of all nations. They must regard him as God’s highest representative and the Church’s structure as revealed by God.
2.2/ Who is the Rock which Jesus built his Church on it? According to the Jewish tradition, the “Rock” is only applied to God (Cf. Ps 18:2, 31; Deut 32:4, 31; I Sam 2:2, II Sam 22:2). St. Augustine agreed with this viewpoint. Others think the rock is the truth; Peter is the first one discovers and proclaims this truth. Still others think the rock is Peter’s faith in Jesus; this very faith is the reason why “the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”
Each opinion gives us different view about Peter. He is the one chosen by God; if God is the Rock, He also makes Peter to be the rock on which His Church is built. The rock is also the truth and Peter’s faith in Jesus which no power of this world can overcome it.
2.3/ Arguments about St. Peter’s authority and his successors: Jesus said to Peter in today passage, “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Many churches and people through generations argued against this saying and the absolute authority of the pope. Many confessed the pope’s authority is the main reason that prevents the unity between churches and the Church, not about their differences on the dogmas. Many churches are afraid that once they communicate with the Church, they must obey the pope’s authority.
* The pope’s absolute authority in his solemn declaration about things related to dogma and moral teachings: The Vat. II council, in the Dogmatic Constitution, LG 25, declared: “And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (cf. Lk 22:32), by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but, as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith.”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– Many people denied the pope’s authority and his infallibility which are based on these Gospel verses (Mt 16:18-19); but the proofs which they can’t be ignored are the pope’s authority and the Church still remain in more than two thousand years, from Jesus’ time until now. They are the powerful proofs that show the correct interpretation of these verses.