Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle
(I Peter 5:1-4; Matthew 16:13-19)
As much as we are eager now to get on with Lent, the Church asks us to pause to consider the pope. More than any other day on the liturgical calendar, today is dedicated to the Bishop of Rome. Someone asked if Peter was not the longest reigning pope. Of course, Pope Pius IX reigned as pope thirty-two years. Would not then Peter been head of the Church longer if he were given the keys to the kingdom in the year 32 or 33 A.D. and kept them until his martyrdom in 65? However, historians don’t comment on this, perhaps because Peter did not go to Rome right away.
The 300 or so popes since St. Peter have come from different nations and possessed different qualities. Although a few of them sinned grievously while occupying the chair of Peter, most were holy men. Some of them were even martyrs like St. Peter himself. Three or four of them have been called “the Great.” In the fourth century, Pope St. Leo was erudite enough to leave us a profound understanding of the liturgy and brave enough to confront Attila the Hun. In the sixth century Pope St. Gregory sent missionaries to convert or reconvert the extremities of Europe while writing a pastoral theology and perhaps inventing the chant that bears his name. Pope St. John Paul II captured the respect of the world in an age of disbelief for his courage, love, and wisdom.
More than admire the popes, we should pray for them. They bear responsibility for the pastoral care of the world. This may sound pretentious, but in fact contemporary popes have been seen in this way. Of course, they give immediate attention to Catholics, but what they say and do are reported around the world. They are looked upon by national leaders for moral wisdom and spiritual insight.