The Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle
(I Peter 5:1-4; Matthew 16:13-19)
Today’s Feast of the Chair of St. Peter is meant to emphasize the authority of the bishop of Rome. Like St. Peter, popes today use this authority to shepherd all the faithful in the Catholic Church. Just last week Pope Francis made a decision that insures the well-being of some of the Church’s most vulnerable members. He laicized a former cardinal and archbishop for sexual abuse of minors. The action signals that no cleric – no matter his status -- will be exempt from severe consequences if he is responsible for an instance of this horrible crime.
Since yesterday we read the parallel passage in the Gospel of Mark, we can compare it with today’s gospel in search of insights into its meaning. In all probability Matthew used Mark’s gospel for his basic storyline. He added material which he took from other sources to support his message. Mark has Peter saying that Jesus is “the Christ.” Matthew has him adding “the Son of God.” Although “Son of God” does not likely mean here all that it means to post-Nicene Christians, it still indicates intimacy with the Almighty. For this reason it should not be a surprise that Matthew has Jesus saying how Simon was able to identify Jesus through a special revelation from the Father. Divine assistance, then, becomes a hallmark of the Chair of Peter. Matthew also adds the renaming of Simon as Peter with the explanation that he is like a petrus or rock who serves as a firm basis for the Church community. Finally, Matthew, but not Mark, pictures Jesus promising Peter the keys to the Kingdom. These instruments, of course, are not physical but spiritual. They represent Peter’s authority not only to forgive sin but also to impose or remove spiritual penalties. In this way Peter can constrain people to do what is right.
Pope Francis is always asking people to pray for him. Very likely he is sincere in this appeal. With all his responsibilities, he realizes the need for divine assistance. We do pray for him every day at Mass. Today, however, our Mass becomes a special prayer that he uses his great authority for the benefit of all.