Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, apostle
(I Peter 5:1-4; Matthew 16:13-19)
Pope Francis has alarmed many with his prediction that he will not serve very long as Bishop of Rome. Although he appears strong, he has only one lung. What is more, he is already in his eightieth year. Nevertheless, he expends himself by going out of his way to be with the little people who matter so much to God. He exemplifies as well as any other pope since those who were martyred in the first three centuries, the lesson of today’s first reading.
The passage underscores the pope’s and, indeed, all priests’ need of humility. It expressly says that they are not to lord it over the faithful. That kind of behavior would give counter-testimony to Christ who humbled himself to the point of undergoing unjust execution. Nor are they to seek favors for their work as this would undermine their credibility. On the positive side, they are to eagerly look after and encourage the faithful. After all, only joyful care-giving will capture hearts for Christ. Especially the Vicar of Christ, for whom there is no retirement plan, will necessarily wear himself out with such responsibilities.
Pope Francis gives of himself so generously as an example to the rest of us. He wants to encourage us to be humble and to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the needy. Admittedly he sets the bar high, but we also are strengthened by Christ to serve one another.