The phenomenal gathering of thousands of young people across the globe for the WYD in Madrid these past few days is distinctively a Catholic event. It speaks volumes about us and our beliefs. Last Friday, the streets leading up to the Plaza de Cibeles were filled with ecstatic teenagers waiting to take a glimpse or more than that of his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. It’s amazing to see them swoon as the Holy Father in the Pope mobile waves his hand and smiles whichever comes first. Obviously, as simple, soft-spoken and reserved as he is, he’s undeniably the main attraction by virtue of his office.
During the 2004 pilgrimage in Rome, back when he was still the Cardinal Prefect of CDF, I had the privilege of attending one of his morning masses in a small chapel in the Vatican (can’t recall where exactly it was) and posed for a picture with him together with my classmates from Mundelein Seminary. If you’re still wondering why we’re crazy about him, well, because he is the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, the Patriarch of the West, the Primate of Italy, the Prince of the Apostles, the Servant of the Servants of God and last but not least, the Successor of Peter, appointed by Jesus as the rock upon which the church will be built, given the keys to the kingdom of heaven and handed the authority to bind and to loose.
It’s timely that as the WYD culminates today in Madrid, the Gospel assigned is the great confession of Peter in Caesarea Philippi where Jesus decides to have an opinion poll not so much to check his popularity rating but to get a sense how much knowledge and understanding his disciples have taken in so far. Now that we’ve hanged around for sometime, let me direct this query to you, “who do you say that I am? (Mt. 16:15).” Without much ado, it’s Peter again, do or die, never afraid to troubleshoot, for whatever it’s worth, who gets the right answer, “You are the Christ (the Anointed One), the Son of the living God (Mt. 16:16).” Knowing his background as a mere fisherman, it makes me wonder how and where in the world he gets that. Jesus’ response makes things clear, “Blessed are you Simon, Son of Jonah, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you but my heavenly Father (Mt. 16:17).” Very well said Peter. However, let me just tell you it’s the revelation of my Father and not of your own accord.
And so, I say to you, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it (Mt. 16:18).”
This passage highlights Petrine Ministry and stresses with clarity and force the very foundation of our belief as Catholics in the Primacy of Peter (Cf. CCC 881; Jn 21: 15-17; LG 22 #2) appointed and installed as the leader and chief steward of the future Church with all the rights and privileges, duties and responsibilities, power and jurisdiction associated with the office as laid down in the next few verses. This holds true with those who would follow them in the line of Apostolic Succession that is, in communion with the early church and the Apostolic era (CCC 860-862) which over a period of several centuries resides with the Roman Pontiff and to this day, exists in the Pope and the Bishops as legitimate successors of the Apostles.
It wasn’t an easy ride, though. In fact, it was roller coaster and the verses above and below have been the cause of major controversies and terrible conflicts that result in the great schisms between the East and West, the separation of the church of England (the Anglican Tradition), the rise of Protestantism and the emergence of Evangelical churches. The common denominator is the refusal to recognize the Pope as the successor of Peter for various reasons, subject for another discussion.
If we look into the annals of the Catholic Church and Christianity in general, we’ll find it’s been clouded over by huge scandals hard to imagine caused mostly by the leaders letting us know evil is impossible to cease and in fact, capable of penetrating deeply into the internal affairs of the church and put in danger the lives of God’s representatives but even if, “the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” The church founded by Jesus with the Apostles was under siege and still is and yet, she must refuse to be defined by the current problems and crisis she faces. Put it simply, no matter how powerful and deceiving demonic forces are, they can never put this church down.
Jesus further adds, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
The handing of the keys to Peter is symbolic of the authority of binding and loosing interpreted as having the power to make decisions in behalf of the church directly affecting the souls of countless believers, to declare and pronounce a doctrine as part of the deposit of faith and require obedience to the faithful, to allow and forbid members and finally, to forgive and to retains sins.
In the end, we have to be grateful to Peter for embarking into this amazing discovery of Jesus’ true identity which the rest of the Apostles could only hope and dream. Knowing he is the gatekeeper and not some random arrogant fellow, holding the keys to the kingdom round the clock without bias and prejudice, openly responsible for unlocking the doors for us sinful human beings, hard to tell but I have a feeling it increases our chances of getting in because he’s pretty much aware of our struggles. Just a thought. Amen.