During the Church’s liturgical year, there are times when a certain feast takes the place of a Sunday. This week, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul: the first Pope and the great Apostle to the nations. The Gospel for this week focuses our attention on Peter’s “confession of faith” at Caesarea Philippi.
This confession is the model for the faith of all the Apostles, and for our own faith as well, because Christian discipleship is rooted in coming to know and to profess Jesus, “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
When asked by the Lord, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter and the rest of the Apostles were confronted with a decision — the same decision that confronts each one of us. Would they follow the opinion of the crowds, or would they be bold enough and courageous enough to express their own belief? Would they be content to know and repeat what others were saying about Jesus, or would they come to know Jesus Himself? The pointedness of Our Lord’s question reminds us that a person’s life, his or her whole future, depends on the clear, sincere, and unequivocal answer given to the Lord’s question.
It is Peter who has the clearest insight into Our Lord’s person: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” Peter grasped the deepest reality of Jesus: His divine being. This understanding did not come from Peter’s human capabilities (“flesh and blood”). Rather, Peter was given knowledge of the mystery of Jesus because he listened to the Lord, saw His miraculous deeds, and trusted Jesus absolutely.
In return, Jesus confers upon Peter a new name, a new function, and a new authority. From now on, Peter (the “Rock”) will be the firm foundation upon which Christ will build His Church. He is given the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” and the authority to bind and to loose, that is, the authority to absolve or condemn, to gather or to exclude. This power is so great that whatever he decides on earth will be ratified in heaven.
These great spiritual powers are given to Peter for the good of the Church, and since the Church is to last until the end of time, these powers are passed on throughout history to those who take Peter’s place as Pope. 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.
An ancient formula of Saint Ambrose sums up in a few words all the teaching about the Roman Pontiff: “Where there is Peter, there is the Church, there too is God.” By entrusting to Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus establishes him (and his successors) as the visible source and foundation of the unity of both the bishops and the whole company of the faithful. United to Peter, we are united to Jesus Christ Himself. In every age, the Pope carries out the task of teaching, sanctifying and shepherding the People of God, a task Christ entrusted to Peter.
To Paul, the Lord gave the task of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. At first a persecutor of the Church, Paul, on the road to Damascus, encountered the Risen Lord and his life was completely transformed. His conversion led him to faith in Jesus Christ and to embrace the mission of making Him known both by word of mouth and through the letters that have come down to us in the New Testament.
Both Peter and Paul bore witness to the reality of the Risen Christ and the new life He shares with His followers. Both Peter and Paul spent their lives building up the Church. Both Peter and Paul finally gave their lives in martyrdom, the supreme act of love for the Lord. As we celebrate the feast of these two great Apostles, together with them let us affirm our faith in the Lord and accept the implications of our confession in our daily lives: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”
Fr. de Ladurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education, a professor of theology at Notre Dame Graduate School and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.
This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.