Jesus Christ, the Church, and the Pope
After Peter’s confession of faith in the divinity of Christ, Jesus says to him: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Mt. 16: 19). We can make a valid claim that Peter’s mission echoes that of Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, of whom the Lord says “I will place the key of the house of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open”
(Isaiah 22: 22). Take a moment to study carefully the statue of St. Peter in our parish church’s vestibule; you will notice keys hanging from Peter’s fingers. The keys are symbolic of the sacred privileges and power placed on the shoulders of the vicar of Christ to proclaim with authority teachings about Christ and his Church. When the successors of St. Peter sit on the chair and teache on issues of faith and morals, it is Jesus’ mind that they channel to us, they transmit the will of Jesus, especially in times of crisis of faith.
In the chapter titled “The Crisis of the Church“ from Cardinal Sarah’s book, The Day is not Far Spent, the prince of the church made a commentary on the passage read at mass this Sunday, "I would like to remind everyone about Jesus' words to St. Peter, 'You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church' (Mt 16:18). We have the assurance that this saying of Jesus is realized in what we call the infallibility of the church. The spouse of Christ, headed by the successor of Peter, can live through crises and storms." The Guinean cardinal’s point of view is in line with scriptures and traditions. We need a voice of clarity in a confusing world. The pope is invested with authority to offer us clarity- he is a sign of unity and order. But does the pope’s message always seem clear to us? It doesn’t seem so, always. One reason for this is that Peter and his successors are human and not perfect. Also, each pope has a unique personality and style. But we are guaranteed that the pope will never succeed in bringing the church down, even if he wills. It is Christ’s church, he is in charge.
I am presently reading an insightful book from the parish office shelves written by Stephen J. Binz and titled Saint Peter: Flawed, Forgiven, and Faithful. The title says a lot about Peter and his successors, they are imperfect, but nevertheless are forgiven and faithful servants of the truth and sign of unity. In a world and church that is highly politicized and divided into left and right, liberal and conservative, let us pray for the vicar of Christ, the successor of St. Peter, the bishop of Rome, our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Let us pray through the intercession of St. Peter that our pope will continue to be faithful to the proclamation of the Gospel in its fullness and purity.
A major message from Stephen J. Binz's book is flawed and broken people like St. Peter is capable of being forgiven their mistakes and used by the Lord to do great things for the Church, his spouse. “The difference between a simmer and a saint is forgiveness,” the book’s blurb says. Our sins are never permanent obstacles to our call to bear witness to the Gospel. Do you know your failures or sins are no excuse for not becoming a saint? Think of St. Peter, the first pope.
Yours, a forgiven sinner,
Fr. Bernard Oniwe, OP