What a remarkable day today! To have, as the second Friday of Lent, the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, a day where the whole Church joins in a common prayer for our beloved Holy Father, as he transitions into the final stage of his life. We pray for the cardinals who will be choosing his successor. We pray for that man who will be our next pontiff — that his surrender to God will be a model that will work to set the world ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Here is “Tu es Petrus,” composed by James MacMillan for the papal visit to Cathedral of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Westminster in 2010:
MacMillan is a good and holy man — and a wildly talented one, using those talents for worshipping our Lord — I got to meet him when we were among the “peoples” who met Pope Benedict XVI in October during the opening Mass of the Year of Faith. We both, like most of the peoples who received messages from the Holy Father that day, thanked B16.
In a homily for today’s feast, which he also managed to tweet, he explains what today — and our lives as a Catholic Church — are about:
we’re enabled to live a life of charity that makes explicit what it means to be baptized into the life of the Trinity, into God who is a communion of love.
In order that these life-giving activities continue until Jesus Christ returns in glory, as he commands, so Christ promises to be with his Church, present and active in her teaching authority, called the Magisterium, and present and active in her sacramental life. So, in the authentic teaching of the Church, and in the sacraments, it is Jesus Christ who is acting, who is teaching, and who is sanctifying his people. For any authority that the Church has, and any grace and truth that she communicates comes, ultimately, from him, the Head of the Church. As the Catechism says: “Entirely dependent on Christ who gives mission and authority, ministers are truly ‘slaves of Christ’” (CCC 876). As such, leadership in the Church is exercised as a service to Christ, to his Church by keeping all in a bond of love and unity, and to the world who longs to hear the Gospel of truth.
Hence, the Catechism explains that “in order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility” (CCC 889). It is this gift of Christ’s sure and infallible authority to his Church, particularly to St Peter and his successors, that we celebrate in today’s feast. For the Magisterium, and especially the ministry of the pope, is a sign of Christ’s love for us, of his promise to be with his Church “to the close of the age” to keep us in a unity of faith with him, and to lead us and into all truth; the papacy is a sign of Christ’s pastoral care, and of his faithfulness. So, the Catechism says that, through the Magisterium, we receive a “guarantee [of] the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error” (CCC 890). As such, dissent from the teaching authority of the Church is actually a sign of a lack of faith in Christ. For it says, in effect, that Christ has broken his promise to be with his Church for all time, that his gift of infallibility in matters of faith and morals has failed, or worse, that his teaching is being rejected.
It’s sometimes objected that there have been very unworthy popes, and so, we can’t trust the papacy. But, as in the sacramental life – in our life of grace and our relationship with God – it is not our worthiness that takes centre-stage. Rather, the effectiveness of the sacraments themselves, and indeed, the existence of the Church (despite the sinners that make up her members), and so, also, the infallible teaching authority of the Church, all point to the faithfulness of Christ. They all speak of a God who is love, and who thus does not abandon us when we, his sinful servants, fail. Rather, Christ promises to remain with us, to be present and active in his Church so as to always teach, guide, and sanctify us.
It is this promise made to St Peter and to each of his successors, to every pope, that we celebrate today. In just one week the Chair of Saint Peter will be vacant as Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate comes to an end. But the chair, the seat of authority, itself remains. Because the authority entrusted to the papacy is Christ’s own, and Christ, who is always faithful (cf 2 Tim 2:13), has promised to remain with his Church always, “to the close of the age”.
Check this out, from St. Leo the Great via today’s Liturgy of the Hours:
Out of the whole world one man, Peter, is chosen to preside at the calling of all nations, and to be set over all the apostles and all the fathers of the Church. Though there are in God’s people many shepherds, Peter is thus appointed to rule in his own person those whom Christ also rules as the original ruler. Beloved, how great and wonderful is this sharing of his power that God in his goodness has given to this man. Whatever Christ has willed to be shared in common by Peter and the other leaders of the Church, it is only through Peter that he has given to others what he has not refused to bestow on them.
The Lord now asks the apostles as a whole what men think of him. As long as they are recounting the uncertainty born of human ignorance, their reply is always the same.
But when he presses the disciples to say what they think themselves, the first to confess his faith in the Lord is the one who is first in rank among the apostles.
Peter says: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus replies: Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. You are blessed, he means, because my Father has taught you. You have not been deceived by earthly opinion, but have been enlightened by inspiration from heaven. It was not flesh and blood that pointed me out to you, but the one whose only-begotten Son I am.
He continues: And I say to you. In other words, as my Father has revealed to you my godhead, so I in my turn make known to you your pre-eminence. You are Peter: though I am the inviolable rock, the cornerstone that makes both one, the foundation apart from which no one can lay any other, yet you also are a rock, for you are given solidity by my strength, so that which is my very own because of my power is common between us through your participation.
And upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. On this strong foundation, he says, I will build an everlasting temple. The great height of my Church, which is to penetrate the heavens, shall rise on the firm foundation of this faith.
Excuse the interruption: “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it! Can’t you feel the liberation that comes from the sacraments? Sorta makes you not want to miss one today, or take some steps …
The gates of hell shall not silence this confession of faith; the chains of death shall not bind it. Its words are the words of life. As they lift up to heaven those who profess them, so they send down to hell those who contradict them.
I don’t usually interrupt sermons like this but: The chains are lifted! You’d think we’d be living differently, letting the world in on this. We must! We must be evangelical Catholics!
Blessed Peter is therefore told: To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth is also bound in heaven. Whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.
The authority vested in this power passed also to the other apostles, and the institution established by this decree has been continued in all the leaders of the Church. But it is not without good reason that what is bestowed on all is entrusted to one. For Peter received it separately in trust because he is the prototype set before all the rulers of the Church.
Today’s a day for prayer, let us all join in:
Luke 22:32; Matthew 16:17b
I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not fail;
– and when you have turned it to me,
you must strengthen the faith of your brothers.
Flesh and blood have not revealed this to you,
but my Father in heaven.
– And when you have turned it to me,
you must strengthen the faith of your brothers.