The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle
(I Peter 5:1-4; Matthew 16:13-19)
St. Peter’s “Chair” is better rendered his “Throne.” It refers to the primacy of the pope in the college of bishops. The pope, who is bishop of Rome, oversees the unity of the global Church and the orthodoxy of its doctrine. He appoints most of the other bishops and encourages all of them to faithfully carry out their pastoral responsibilities. Most of all, the pope is to guide all Christians to the fullness of charity as Jesus taught.
To meet these daunting tasks requires divine help. In today’s gospel St. Peter shows that he has access to such assistance. Jesus announces that Peter could not have identified him as the “Christ” and “Son of the living God” without the Father’s revelation. Jesus also says that Peter will receive the “keys to the Kingdom of heaven.” Like his chair, keys are a symbol of authority. They refer primarily to the pope’s duty to decide which actions conform to the teachings of Jesus and which do not.
Pope Francis has sat on the chair of Peter for almost five years. Although he is admired throughout the world, he has not pleased everyone within the Church. His particular emphasis on the poor and suffering has caused a few to criticize his teaching as lax. But no one doubts Francis’ integrity or his personal virtue. Above all, Francis strives to imitate the historical Jesus by befriending everyone, especially those in the most need of mercy.