“Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven.”
Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. Two and a half years ago I would have scoffed at the ridiculous notion of celebrating the Papacy. To me, the Papacy was a made up invention, used to hold poor peasant people in bondage, and somehow had persisted to this day to hold uneducated Catholics in a blind bondage to a Church that hated Jesus Christ, free salvation, and truth. You could have told me that this passage existed in Scripture, and I would have laughed. You could have read it to me verbatim, and I would have shrugged it off as inconclusive! But how?! How could its rich imagery mean anything else?! How could this beautiful verse escape me?! How could I fool myself into thinking that this particular saying of Jesus was too hard to understand or just unimportant? Did Jesus ever do anything unimportant? No!
This is quite an amazing verse and its implications could be meditated upon for eons! This whole passage is about identity. Look at the verses directly preceding it:
Now Jesus, having come into the district of Cæsarea Philippi, began to ask his disciples, saying “Who do men say the Son of Man is?” But they said, “Some say, John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The disciples begin by identifying Jesus as the world knows him, as a prophet. But Simon, Simon identifies Jesus as the Christ. “You art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Then Jesus identifies Simon, first as the world knows him, Simon son of Jonah. But then he identifies him as God knows him: Peter. The Rock. A solid man. A man to whom, the Father has revealed the identity of Jesus. Jesus gives Peter a new identity. He gives him a new task. He will have the Church built upon him. The Scriptures explicitly record the words of Jesus here, there is no wiggle room. Why would Jesus say this if he did not mean it?
And in case there was doubt, Jesus cleared it up by giving Peter the keys to his kingdom! How many of us would just randomly hand out the keys to our house, to our car, to our children’s rooms, to our safe? Yet, Jesus Christ gives Peter the keys of the kingdom of God! He gives him power to exercise authority over the kingdom and its subjects! What other meaning could this have? And in case the meaning was unclear, Jesus settles that too! Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven! The decisions you make in regards to my kingdom will be upheld in heaven. You want my subjects to fast on fridays in remembrance of my death? It is so! You want my Sunday Mass to be an obligation? It is so! But in case we weak, fearful, prideful, selfish men should believe that this power could corrupt the truth, Jesus makes a solemn promise, for the Savior of Mankind does not lie: the gates of hell should not prevail over it. Even though sinful men be left in charge of the kingdom, its truths, its gospel will never decay, it will not be defiled, it will not stray.
Yet, I never saw any of this. I certainly could have never come up with a good enough excuse as to why the verses do not say what they say, but I would have ignored it nevertheless.
There are so many reasons why we need the Papacy. There are many reasons why this office is one of Christ’s greatest gifts to the Church. I do not have the time to go over them now, but if we all, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, spent some time reflecting on what the Papacy is, why having a Pope might be a good thing, and what these verses are actually saying, I believe that the Papacy will begin to look like a great blessing in the eyes of all God’s children.
“But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith may not fail; and do thou, when once thou hast turned again, strengthen thy brethren.”
Let us offer a prayer for our Pope, Benedict XVI, the successor of Peter, that the Spirit will protect him as he leads God’s flock as 264 men have done before him:
Father, we pray for your protection and guidance over our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. Give him strength and wisdom to stand as a prophet for our times. May he be a light in darkness around which we gather in hope. We ask you to bring about reconciliation through his faithful teaching of peace and justice. Grant him compassion and care to live the gospel in love and service to all people. Let him follow in the path of Peter and Paul who, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached that the Lord saves all who call upon his name. Amen.