During this month of August, the month of the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us ask of our good Lord to give us a true devotion to the Immaculate Heart of His Mother, Mary! This Sunday is the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time. This weekend I share with you a reflection on the Papacy and unity in the Church. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
The Pope, Permanent Foundation of Unity: Jesus promises that Peter will be the Rock upon which He will build the Church.
The Gospel of the Holy Mass (Mt. 16:13-20) shows us Jesus and His disciples in the neighborhood of Caesarea Philippi. They had arrived there after leaving Bethsaida and taking the northern road along the edge of the lake. (cf. Mark 8:27; Luke 9:18) As they walk along, Jesus asks the Apostles, Who do men say that the Son of man is? Then, after they have relayed the various opinions people have, Jesus asks them directly, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ We all know this moment - says John Paul II - in which it is no longer sufficient to speak about Jesus by repeating what others have said. You must say what you think, and not quote an opinion. You must bear witness, feel committed by the witness you have borne and carry this commitment to its extreme consequences. The best friends, followers and apostles of Christ have always been those who heard within them one day the definitive, inescapable question, before which all others become secondary and derivative: ‘For you, who am I?’ (John Paul II, Homily at Belo Horizonte, 1 July 1980) A person’s life, his whole future, depends on the clear, sincere and unequivocal answer, without rhetoric or subterfuge, that he gives to this question. (ibid.)
This question that Jesus puts to all His followers finds a special resonance in the heart of Peter, who, moved by a special grace, replies: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus calls Peter blessed for this truth-filled reply in which he openly confesses the Divinity of Him in whose company he has already spent some months. This is the moment chosen by Christ to tell Peter that upon him will fall the Primacy of the whole Church. And I tell you, 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 will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose
on earth will be loosed in Heaven. He will be the Rock, the firm foundation upon which Christ will build His Church, in such a way that no power will be able to overthrow It. And Our Lord Himself has wanted Peter to feel supported and protected each day by the veneration, the love and the prayer of all the faithful. How do we pray every day for the Pope and his intentions? He has an awesome responsibility and we cannot leave him on his own. If we want to be really united to Christ, we have to be united in the first place to the person who takes his place here on earth. May the daily consideration of the heavy burden that weighs upon the Pope and the bishops move you to venerate and love them with real affection, and to help them with your prayers. (J. Escriva, The Forge, 136)
Love for the Pope.
I will give you the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven.
The Keys signify power: I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David, we read in today’s First Reading (Is. 22:19-23), the reference being to Eliakim, the steward of the royal palace. The power promised to Peter, which will be conferred on him after the Resurrection (cf. John 21:15-18), is immensely superior to this. He is not given the keys of an earthly kingdom, but of the Kingdom of Heaven, that Kingdom which is not of this world but which is nurtured here and which will last forever. Peter has the power to bind and loose, that is, to absolve or to condemn, to gather or to exclude. This power is so great that whatever he decides on earth will be ratified in Heaven. To exercise it, he counts on a special help from the Holy Spirit.
From the first day he met Jesus he will be forever known as Cephas, Petrus, the Rock. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church. (John 1:42) By changing his name Our Lord wished to underline the new mission His Apostle Simon has been given: that of being the firm foundation of the new edifice of the Church. It is as if Our Lord had said to him - writes St. Leo the Great - I am the unbreakable Stone, I am the Cornerstone… the Foundation apart from which no one can build. But you are also the ‘Rock’, because through My power you have acquired such firmness that you, by participation, share with Me the power which I have by right. (St. Leo the Great, Homily 4)
From the very beginnings of Christianity the faithful have venerated the Pope. The Prince of the Apostles is everywhere mentioned before the others (Mt. 10:2ff; Acts 1:13), and makes frequent use of his special primacy and authority over the rest: he proposes the election of a new Apostle to replace Judas (Acts 1:15-22); he is the one who speaks to the crowd on Pentecost and makes the first converts (Acts 2:14-36); he replies to the Sanhedrin on behalf of all (Acts 4:8ff); he punishes Ananias and Saphira with full authority (Acts 5:1ff); he admits Cornelius, the first Gentile, into the Church (Acts 10:1ff); and he presides at the Council of Jerusalem and rejects the attempts of the Jewish Christians to impose circumcision on the Gentile converts, laying it down that salvation is to be had only through Faith in Christ. (Acts 15:7-10)
These great spiritual powers are given to Peter for the good of the Church, and since the Church has to last until the end of time, these powers are handed down throughout history to those who take Peter’s place. The Church’s Magisterium has always stressed this point. In the Second Vatican Council’s dogmatic Constitution on the Church we read: This sacred synod, following in the steps of the First Vatican Council, teaches and declares with it that Jesus Christ, the Eternal Pastor… put Peter at the head of the other apostles, and in him He set up a lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of Faith and of communion. This teaching concerning the institution, the permanence, the nature and the import of the sacred Primacy of the Roman Pontiff and his infallible teaching office the sacred synod proposes anew to be firmly believed by all the faithful. (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 18) The Roman Pontiff is the successor of Peter; united to him we are united to Christ. He is His Vicar here on earth, the one who takes His place.
Our love for the Pope is not just a natural affection, based on his holiness, his likeableness etc. When we journey to see the Pope, to listen to what he has to say, we do it in order to see, to touch and to hear Peter, the Vicar of Christ. He is, whoever he happens to be, the sweet Christ on earth, in the phrase of Saint Catherine of Siena. Your deepest love, your greatest esteem, your most heartfelt veneration, your most complete obedience and your warmest affection have also to be shown towards the Vicar of Christ on earth, towards the Pope.
We Catholics should consider that after God and the most Holy Virgin, our Mother, the Holy Father comes next in the hierarchy of love and authority. (J. Escriva, The Forge, 135)
Where Peter is, there is the Church, there is God. Listen to the Pope’s teaching and make it known.
An ancient formula sums up in a few words all the teaching about the Roman Pontiff: Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia, ibi Deus. (St. Ambrose, Commentary on Psalm 12, 40, 30) Where Peter is, there is the Church, there too is God. The Roman Pontiff - says the Second Vatican Council - as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful. (Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 23) And what would become of this unity if there were not one head over all the Church, to bless it and care for it, and to unite all its members in the profession of one Faith and join them together in the bond of Charity and of union? (Gregory XVI, Commissum Divinitus, 15 June 1835) Unity would be smashed into a thousand pieces and we would wander like scattered sheep, without a sure Faith in which to believe, without a clear path to follow.
We want to be with Peter, because with him we have the Church, with him we have Christ; and without him we will not find God. And because we love Christ we love the Pope - with the same Charity. And since we are attentive to Jesus, to His desires, to His actions, to His entire life, in the same way we are united to the Roman Pontiff in even the smallest details: we love him above all for the One he represents and of whom he is the instrument. Y ou must love, venerate, pray and mortify yourself for the Pope, and do so with greater affection each day. For he is the foundation-stone of the Church and,
throughout the centuries, right to the end of time, he carries out among men that task of sanctifying and governing which Jesus entrusted to Peter. (J. Escriva, The Forge, 134) In the A cts of the A postles we see clear evidence of the love and devotion the first Christians had for Peter: they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. (Acts 5:15) They were happy to make do with the shadow of Peter. They know well that very close to him there was Christ! His word confers on us a noonday clarity in the midst of the confused welter of opinions which, today just as in former times, are proclaimed by so many false prophets and false teachers. Let us have a hunger to know the teachings of the Pope and to make them known in our environment. That is the light which illuminates men’s consciences. Let us make the resolution to receive his word with internal docility and obedience, with love. (cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 25) (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of Mary, the Undoer of Knots, St. Joseph, St. Michael and St. Paul, may God grant us the grace of a devoted love for the Papacy and our Catholic Church!