“Simon Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ 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. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church.’” (Matthew 16:16-18)
Today, we celebrate the feast of a chair that governs the Catholic Church all over the world; a chair that Jesus Christ when He literally gave Peter the keys of kingdom of God.
Jesus said: “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.”
This event may not have lasted for up to ten minutes but it played a significant role in the historal development of the Church’s governance. To this day, the successors of Peter are considered as holders of this key and today’s feast celebrates the fact that the Catholic Church despite its size and spread across the world recognizes and respects the office of the Pope as its leader.
However, it must be stated clearly that the office of Pope is a “community”. The Pope exercises his authority in communion with so many others, bishops, priests, religious and the laity. The Pope doesn’t “own” the Catholic Church as some may think and but provides visible leadership. Jesus Christ is the only real leader and owner of the Catholic Church. This is the only reasonable explanation for the Catholic Church’s survival to this day. If Jesus wasn’t in charge, there wouldn’t have been a Church still standing. No man-made organisation has been able to go through what we have seen in our history and survived.
Being a leader is not all about exercising power and control. It is all about service. As Jesus noted: “whoever would be first among you must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Even as Jesus made Peter the head of the disciples, Peter was conscious of the fact that this office would not be about lording it over anyone but about service. Once upon a time Peter accepted Paul’s open rebuke regarding the treatment of Gentile-converts and he retraced his steps.
That is why as we read in our first reading, Peter himself writes: “Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.”
Today is a day we pray for our Pope who is the visible head of the Church on earth. As we pray for him, we also pray for all those who assist him in the exercise of his duties as well as our Bishops, Priests, Religious and Clergy who share in his Apostolic Ministry in various degrees. Our prayer is that they may be inspired by the Holy Spirit to exercise authority by service and good example.
In recent days and times, social media has celebrated some of our excesses and faults but the truth is that “good news” doesn’t sell; only bad news does. Videos of priests doing extraordinarily well never go viral. In all works of life, people hardly celebrate stars but villains, deviants and bad eggs make headlines. And there’s the tendency to assume “they’re all the same”. Please pray for us!
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to lead by service. Amen
Bible Study: 1 Peter 5:1-4, Ps. 23, Matthew 16:13-19.