THE SERVANT GENERAL
ON POPE FRANCIS
THE ROCK THAT IS PETER
February 22, 2014
Today’s gospel: Matthew 16:13-19
Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. St. Peter was
the first pope. Since then there has been an unbroken succession
down to the 266th pope today, Pope Francis. There is only
one Church that traces its origin to Peter, and that is the
Roman Catholic Church.
What are the realities
about our Church and the pope?
First, the Church is
built upon the rock that is Peter. “And so I say to
you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”
(v.18a). Jesus is the Rock, and Peter is the rock. They are
our solid foundation of faith. Now notice that Jesus does
not say I am building my church and I will place Peter as
its head. What Jesus says is that the focal point is Peter,
and the Church is built upon the foundation that is Peter.
Not the Church and then Peter, but Peter and then the Church.
This is significant.
Today there are many Christian Churches, as there have been
various schisms throughout the history of the Church (Orthodox
Oriental Churches in 451, Eastern Orthodox in 1054, Protestant
Reformation in 1517, Anglicanism in 1535, etc.). Today there
are three main streams of Christianity, with many others interspersed--Catholic,
Orthodox, Protestant. But only the Roman Catholic Church is
built upon the rock that is Peter. Many of the other churches
in fact reject the primacy of the pope, who holds the Chair
This has a particularly
crucial consequence. Jesus asserts that “the gates of
the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (v.18b).
No matter what, the true Church of Jesus will survive and
will not be overcome by the power of death, which comes from
the evil one. Today we see that the Protestant Churches by
and large have succumbed to the culture of death, approving
of contraception, divorce, abortion and same-sex unions. The
Roman Catholic Church is the only strong institution standing
against the global forces assaulting faith, family and life.
The liberal Protestant churches are in steep decline. The
Catholic Church is under tremendous assault from without,
and struggles with an enemy within. But while the Protestant
churches will disintegrate, the Roman Catholic Church will
survive and thrive.
Second, when Jesus
asked his disciples whom they thought he was, it was Simon
Peter who said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the
living God.” (v.16). That answer was very significant,
such that Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you,
Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this
to you, but my heavenly Father.” (v.17). Direct revelation
by God the Father is not commonplace. God usually reveals
His ways to us through Jesus His Son or through the Holy Spirit.
But on the verge of his very important appointment as the
rock on which the Church would be founded, God the Father
revealed the true identity of Jesus to Peter. Today, as the
Vicar of Christ, as the head of Jesus’ body on earth,
as successor to Peter, as the rock on which the Church is
built, the pope has special access to God. God reveals to
him the realities about Jesus and his saving work. As the
ultimate authority in the Catholic Church, the pope has papal
Third, the pope holds
the keys to heaven. “I will give you the keys to the
kingdom of heaven.” (v.19a). The way to heaven is through
the church that Jesus established. Only in the Roman Catholic
Church is the fullness of authentic and authoritative Christian
teaching. Protestants who accept and live out their churches’
teaching on the acceptability and morality of such things
as contraception, divorce, abortion and same-sex unions, are
not gaining entry into heaven. The Roman Catholic Church is
the barque in which we are with Jesus and Peter, riding through
the storms of life. Peter exercises authority over the Church
on earth, and submitting to that authority helps assure us
of entry into heaven.
Fourth, given that
the Church is built on the rock that is Peter, given that
the Father reveals things directly to Peter, given that Peter
holds the keys to the kingdom of heaven, God gives Peter corresponding
authority over His Church and affirms his actions done in
His name. “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound
in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed
in heaven.” (v.19b). This could refer to excommunication.
Whatever it is, what is important is that such crucial acts
of Peter on earth are accepted and bound in heaven.
popes are the successors of Peter. What God intended Peter
to be and to do, God intends the popes to be and to do (though
in human weakness there were also bad popes). The Church is
founded on the rock that is Peter. The Church cannot be overcome
by the gates of the netherworld. Peter holds the keys to the
kingdom of heaven. It is the Church that is given her mission,
to do the work of evangelization so that people may meet
Christ and be able to answer the question: “Who
do people say that the Son of Man is?” (v.13b). It is
the Church that then shows the way for those who meet Christ
to now live Christ, through authoritative
teaching and Christian formation. This is so that they can
enter heaven, with Peter welcoming them through its gates.
And it is the Church that sends her children off to share
Christ. Jesus, because his time had not yet come,
“strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that
he was the Messiah.” (v.20). That is no longer the case.
Since before he ascended into heaven, Jesus tells all his
disciples to tell everyone that he indeed is the Messiah.
Viva il Papa!