“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” (Matthew 16:18).
When it comes right down to it, the thing that ultimately separates all the other versions of Christianity from the Catholic Church is the question of who’s in charge. For all the various Protestant objections to Mary, Purgatory, et al., it began with Martin Luther’s fundamental rejection of the magisterial authority of the Church to define Christian teaching. Five hundred years ago this Halloween, the Protestant “Reformation” began, centred on the idea that each person has the right to interpret Scripture for himself. The chaos that sprung out of this revolution can hardly be overstated.
Nearly five hundred years before that, tensions between Eastern and Western Christendom came to a boil, causing the Schism into Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and again it ultimately boiled down to the question of authority and the papacy.
In our own day, the current Holy Father, Pope Francis, has in his words and his actions been nearly a symbol of the polarizing impact of the papacy through history. People have frequently misunderstood him, misinterpreted him, and misjudged him. We may not agree with everything the Pope says or does, but when we as laymen and women become unduly distressed or critical of Pope Francis—especially when we become tempted to toss around the term “heretic” or to leave the Catholic Church for some schismatic community, we place ourselves in the precarious position of heretics ourselves. For in rejecting the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of God, founded by Christ on the Rock of St. Peter and his successors, we demonstrate our lack of faith in Christ Himself who promised Peter when Jesus appointed him to be the prime minister and chief shepherd of His Church, that Hell itself would not prevail against it!
This Sunday’s Mass readings teach us about the office of the Papacy—how it is rooted in the prime ministerial position of the Davidic Kingdom; how that prime minister was given a Key as a symbol of his authority, and that his judgements stand (cf. the first reading, Isaiah 22:15, 19-23). St. Paul in the second reading reminds us of God’s absolute wisdom and plan (Romans 11:33-36). And the Gospel recounts how Jesus, prompted by Simon’s faithful proclamation of His identity, gives him a new identity as Peter, the rock upon which He will build His Church. Like the Davidic prime minister, Jesus gives Peter the Keys of the Kingdom, and the authority to “bind” and “loose”—rabbinical expressions of defining doctrines and disciplines. And finally, that promise! The Church will not fail!
The boat may get rocky as the world and the devil trying to capsize it. Its pilot, the Pope, may not always make the wisest course corrections—at least in our estimation—but mutineers will not prevail against the Captain, Jesus Christ, and all who abandon ship find themselves adrift in shark-infested waters.
Our only hope is to keep faith and remain aboard the Barque of Peter, remaining close to Jesus in the Sacraments, and trusting that He’ll keep His promise to the end.
And really, what more hope do we need? What better hope could we have?
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