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St. Peter - Peter Paul Rubens

Isaiah 22: 19-23
Romans 11: 33-36
Mt 16: 13-20

We all want to belong. We all want to be part of a group. The give and take of human interaction from the very moment we come in to this world to the moment we leave it, defines our existence and our self-image.

Teenagers are “groupies” to the point that often the last person they would want to be seen with would be their parents. It’s time they spread their wings and establish their independence. Most often, once they cross the line into early adulthood, their parents are welcomed back into their world. But, the bottom line is that we humans are social animals and we are meant to be together.

In this Sunday’s Gospel it seems that Jesus is curious to hear about what others are thinking of him. He asks his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The title “son of man” was a somewhat obscure title used by Jesus likely in reference to the Messiah as the perfect God/man. What do you hear, he wonders? What's the chatter out there about messianic expectations?

The opinions, not surprisingly, are varied: “John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets,” the Apostles respond. In other words, take your pick. Then Jesus poses a more personal question, “Who do you say that I am?” Ah, which of the above listing do you guys believe? What’s your opinion? It’s a very crucial question Jesus asks for they have been his followers for some time now.

The famous response comes from Peter: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God!” It was not the first time that these disciples recognized Jesus for who he was. Remember the calming of the sea (Mt 14: 22-33) in which these men declared, “Truly, you are the Son of God.” But Peter’s profession went even farther.

To say, “You are the Christ,” was an answer to Jesus original question about who the “Son of Man” was. It isn’t the baptizer nor Elijah nor one of the prophets as was the varied opinions. Peter in essence said to Jesus – “You are he!” In Jesus, God has come to visit his people – the “son of the living God!” And these disciples, later to be sent as Apostles, would carry this message to the world. And Peter, the “rock” of both his person and his faith, would be the center piece around which the Church would gather.

So our Catholic ears hear, Pope Peter I in Jesus’ words – the establishment of what we have come to know as the Vicar of Christ on earth in the Bishop of Rome. But more is implied than just a pivotal position here. As crucial as the Petrine Office is to our Catholic identity and unity, the mission of the Church is established through this recognition by Peter and with him, the other Apostles.

That mission is carried on not just by the Pope, Bishops, us priests and religious. The mission of the Church is the mission of each disciple who has come to recognize Jesus as the “Son of the living God.”

The symbolic “keys to the kingdom of heaven”, given to Peter by Jesus, reassures us that the authority of the Church, though exercised by fallible human beings, is a shared authority between God and humanity. It is in Christ’s name that the Pope must speak, not his own. But it offers each of us the confidence that we know the Church will always prevail. History has shown us this time and again: the Roman Empire, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union have all withered away. Despite great persecution and the blood of millions sacrificed for the Gospel, the Church is still here. At least in recent history, above political parties and secular ideologies. The Church isn’t perfect because it is composed of sinners but it is holy because Christ, its head, is holy.

We surely have seen some notorious and colorful Popes over the centuries.  The names of Julius II and Alexander VI, hands down the most immoral and scandalous among these characters,  and other successors of Peter during the age of the Renaissance just all the more show the protection of the Holy Spirit in spite of our human sinfulness. But among our Pope's we have seen great charismatic saints and men of heroic virtue.  Blessed John Paul II certainly among the "Great."

Jesus promised us this: “. . . upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it . . .” In word and service to others we proclaim that Christ is God come among us in love and truth.

In all things, Charity. Our group identity is that of Christian and Catholic. With Peter and the Apostles still among us we have confidence to  know the Spirit guides and directs us when our own human energy gives out.

Maybe ponder one or two ways you can be Christ to others this week: to a loved one or to a stranger.
Fr. Tim

50 posted on 08/21/2011 7:16:31 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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Insight Scoop

The Roots of the Papacy and the Primacy of Peter

• Isa 22:19-23
• Ps 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8
• Rom 11:33-36
• Mt 16:13-20

“The doctrine of the primacy of Peter is just one more of the many errors that the Church of Rome has added to the Christian religion.”

So wrote the Presbyterian theologian Loraine Boettner in his 1962 book, Roman Catholicism, a popular work of anti-Catholic polemics. Although the religious landscape has changed significantly since the early 1960s, there are still many non-Catholic Christians today who agree wholeheartedly with Boettner’s assertions. The Papacy is unbiblical! It has no basis in Scripture! Peter was never singled out as a leader of the apostles!

Growing up in a Fundamentalist home, I believed such statements. But I now agree instead with the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the ‘rock’ of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock” (par 881; cf. 551-53). Some of the reasons for the change in my beliefs are found in today’s readings, which provide some Old Testament context for the papacy and also describe a profound exchange between Jesus and Peter.

First, the Old Testament background. King Solomon and his successors had twelve deputies or ministers who helped the king govern and rule (cf., 1 Kings 4:1ff). The master of the palace, or prime minister, had a unique position among those twelve, as described in today’s reading from the prophet Isaiah. The prime minister wore a robe and sash befitting his office, and was entrusted by the king to wield the king’s authority. The symbol for that authority were “the keys of the House of David,” which enabled the minister to regulate the affairs of the king’s household—that is, of the kingdom. In addition, this prime minister is described by Isaiah as a “father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah.”

Fast forward to about the year A.D. 30. Jesus and his disciples are in the region of Caesarea Philippi, a pagan area about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. They likely were standing at the base of Mount Hermon in front of a well-known cliff filled with niches holding statues of pagan deities; at the top of the cliff stood a temple in honor of Caesar. Jesus first asked the disciples who other people thought he was. The variety of answers given revealed the confusion surrounding the identity of Jesus, quite similar to the confusion and controversies about Jesus in our own time. 

Jesus asked who they thought he was. It was Peter—brash but correct—who responded with the great acclamation, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, confessing both the divinity and kingship of Jesus. Peter was then addressed singularly by Jesus, who renamed him Petros, or “Rock”. That name was unique among the Jews, reserved in the Old Testament for God alone. Jesus further declared he would build his Church upon the newly named Rock, and he gave Peter “the keys to the kingdom of heaven.” 

This dramatic moment makes little or no sense without the context provided by Isaiah 22 and other Old Testament passages. Jesus, heir of David and King of kings, was appointing Peter to be his prime minister, the head of the Twelve. “The ‘power of the keys’,” explains the Catechism, “designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church” (par 553). The binding and loosing refers to prohibiting and permitting; it also includes the function of rendering authoritative teaching and making official pronouncements.

Does this mean that Peter and his successors are sinless or even somehow divine? No, of course not. They are men in need of salvation, just like you and I. But God has chosen to work through such men in order to proclaim the Gospel, to lead the Church, and to teach the faithful. They are fathers (“pope” means “papa”) who hold a unique office for one reason: they were called by Christ to hold the keys of the household of God.

(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the August 24, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)

Related Articles, Book Excerpts, and Interviews:

Peter and Succession | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
"Primacy in Love": The Chair Altar of Saint Peter's in Rome | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome | Stephen K. Ray
From "The Appeal to Antiquity", Chapter One of The Early Papacy to the Synod of Chalcedon in 451 | Adrian Fortescue
The Essential Nature and Task of the Church | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
On the Papacy, John Paul II, and the Nature of the Church | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Papal Authority in von Balthasar's Ecclesiology | Raymond Cleaveland
Church Authority and the Petrine Element | Hans Urs von Balthasar
Motherhood of the Entire Church | Henri de Lubac, S.J.
Mater Ecclesia: An Ecclesiology for the 21st Century | Donald Calloway, M.I.C.
The Papacy and Ecumenism | Rev. Adriano Garuti, O.F.M.
The Church Is the Goal of All Things | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Excerpts from Theology of the Church | Charles Cardinal Journet
Authority and Dissent in the Catholic Church | Dr. William E. May

51 posted on 08/21/2011 7:20:09 PM PDT by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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