Monday, February 22, 2010

The Chair of St. Peter, apostle

(I Peter 5:1-4; Matthew 16:13-19)

Last Monday Americans celebrated not just Abraham Lincoln and George Washington but all their country’s presidents. Today the Church feasts not just St. Peter and St. Pius X but all her popes. The list is long – 263 in number – and illustrious. There have been a few scoundrels along the line, but for the most part men of wisdom and piety have occupied the office.

There are many titles for the pope. He is the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome, and the Patriarch of the West. Perhaps the most becoming of all titles, because of its gospel roots, is what Pope St. Gregory the Great named himself and his successors echoed – “Servant of the Servants of God.” The spirit of service drew many non-Catholics to Pope John Paul II who dedicated himself to world peace and unity.

Today’s gospel illustrates what is expected of the pope. As Simon in Matthew’s gospel is the first human to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, so the pope must exhibit clarity in faith. Then, just as Jesus names Simon, “Peter” the rock upon which he establishes the Church, so too the pope is to support all Christians, disciplining where necessary but more characteristically encouraging devotion by charity.