Jesus says to Peter this Sunday: "Blessed are you Simon son of Jonah...I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church..."
Before saying something about Peter's role and that of his current successor, it is important to underscore Jesus' primacy. Five centuries of controversy about the authority of the pope have perhaps caused us to neglect that Jesus himself is the invisible head of the church. He says it clearly, "I will build my church."
If Jesus is anything, he is a builder. He was at the side of the Father in creating the world (John 1:1, cf. Prov. 8:29: "When he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman.") In taking on our human nature, it is significant that most of his life he worked as a carpenter. His public ministry was one of intense building activity. He was not a "lone ranger" like John the Baptist out in the desert. From the beginning he formed around himself a core of disciples and chose Twelve of them as a sign he was establishing a "New Israel." The former Israel was Yahweh's bride; the new Israel is Jesus' bride, the church. Jesus continues to form his bride through the power of the Holy Spirit and the sacraments. (Eph 5:25) Jesus even now is at work building his church.
One of the ways Jesus forms his church is by inspiring individual Christians to do their part. I thought of this last week as we received our first rebate check from the Archdiocesan Annual Appeal. The check itself was most welcome. As you know from Greg McNabb's reports, the costs of replacing the boilers in the school and Ailbe House forced us to take out a loan from the Archdiocese. We want to pay that back as speedily as possible so we can attend to other needs. This first Annual Appeal rebate is a happy sign. Along with the check came a list of all the donors, over six hundred families. I was personally touched by the faith of the many who support our parish and the Archbishop. It is truly Jesus working to build up his church.
Of course we rely most on your Sacrificial Giving, your weekly or monthly envelope which represents giving back to God a part of what he has given you. Our parish programs and our school are dependent on those contributions. Moreover, our building discernment committee has determined we are at a point in our parish history when we must address the great need we have for an adequate, accessible hall as well as meeting seismic and other requirements.
Now these physical structures exist not to look at, but to promote a deeper kind of building. This is what Jesus refers to in today's Gospel. It is one which will not crumble away because it is composed of human beings with eternal souls. For that spiritual edifice he chose one man as the "rock." He even gave him that nickname, Cephas in Aramaic or Petros in Greek. Both words mean a stone or rock. Not exactly a flattering nickname and perhaps even a bit ironic considering Simon Peter's outbursts and cowardice.
Commenting on this verse Bishop Fulton Sheen speculates Jesus chose Peter precisely because of his weakness. He wanted to make it clear the Church does not finally depend on man's strength. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and in a real sense Peter himself is the weakest link in the chain of popes.
Someone asked a priest friend of mine what he thought of the present pope. He replied, "What I think of Pope John Paul matters little. What counts is that I respect him as Christ's Vicar here on earth. I owe that to God." The pope will not judge you and me, but God will.
As far as I'm concerned we have been privileged to live over twenty years now under one of the greatest popes ever. But his human greatness in some ways is beside the point. He has the same role Jesus gave to Peter - to guide and strengthen the church. (Jn. 21:16, Lk 22: 31) Our loyalty to the Holy Father is ultimately obedience to Jesus himself.
From Archives (Homilies for Peter & Paul):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)
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Fr. Brad's Homilies
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru