Saturday, 30 June 2012

Ubi Petrus ibi Ecclesia

I have just read the homily given by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI during Mass yesterday for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. You can read the entire homily in English on the Vatican website by following this link: There was one part of the pope’s homily that was particularly note worthy to me and which I felt the urge to comment on.

The particular section from the homily was this:

In the passage from Saint Matthew’s Gospel that we have just heard, Peter makes his own confession of faith in Jesus, acknowledging him as Messiah and Son of God. He does so in the name of the other Apostles too. In reply, the Lord reveals to him the mission that he intends to assign to him, that of being the “rock”, the visible foundation on which the entire spiritual edifice of the Church is built (cf. Mt 16:16-19). But in what sense is Peter the rock? How is he to exercise this prerogative, which naturally he did not receive for his own sake? The account given by the evangelist Matthew tells us first of all that the acknowledgment of Jesus’ identity made by Simon in the name of the Twelve did not come “through flesh and blood”, that is, through his human capacities, but through a particular revelation from God the Father. By contrast, immediately afterwards, as Jesus foretells his passion, death and resurrection, Simon Peter reacts on the basis of “flesh and blood”: he “began to rebuke him, saying, this shall never happen to you” (16:22). And Jesus in turn replied: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me ...” (16:23). The disciple who, through God’s gift, was able to become a solid rock, here shows himself for what he is in his human weakness: a stone along the path, a stone on which men can stumble – in Greek, skandalon. Here we see the tension that exists between the gift that comes from the Lord and human capacities; and in this scene between Jesus and Simon Peter we see anticipated in some sense the drama of the history of the papacy itself, characterized by the joint presence of these two elements: on the one hand, because of the light and the strength that come from on high, the papacy constitutes the foundation of the Church during its pilgrimage through history; on the other hand, across the centuries, human weakness is also evident, which can only be transformed through openness to God’s action.

We can certainly find many instances throughout history to point fingers at the successors of St Peter to indicate their numerous flaws. (In fact we do not need to find them, the enemies of the Church make sure that we do not ever forget them.) St Peter was himself, as the pope highlights, reproached by our Lord for being a hindrance almost immediately after our Lord confirmed that St Peter would be the “rock” on which our Lord would build His Church. Despite this, we do not see our Lord reacting by removing St Peter as the “rock” and appointing another. Neither does our Lord react by removing St Peter and instead entrusting the duty, of being the “rock”, to all the faithful based on some or other democratic system, as some liberals and modernists have suggested should now be implemented in the Church.

There is no doubt that our Lord knew the weaknesses of St Peter and also certainly of all the Apostles. (I have read that it may have been precisely because of the weaknesses of these men that our Lord appointed them as His Apostles.) Our Lord would also undoubtedly have understood the weaknesses of their successors to come. What we need to remember is that our Lord promised to, and is, protecting His Church. It is in this promise of our Lord that we must always have faith. This is how His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI puts it in his homily:

In today’s Gospel there emerges powerfully the clear promise made by Jesus: “the gates of the underworld”, that is, the forces of evil, will not prevail, “non praevalebunt”. One is reminded of the account of the call of the prophet Jeremiah, to whom the Lord said, when entrusting him with his mission: “Behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you - non praevalebunt -, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you!” (Jer 1:18-19). In truth, the promise that Jesus makes to Peter is even greater than those made to the prophets of old: they, indeed, were threatened only by human enemies, whereas Peter will have to be defended from the “gates of the underworld”, from the destructive power of evil. Jeremiah receives a promise that affects him as a person and his prophetic ministry; Peter receives assurances concerning the future of the Church, the new community founded by Jesus Christ, which extends to all of history, far beyond the personal existence of Peter himself.

We must believe our Lord and have faith in His promises. The Church is the only institution that has survived for nearly 2000 years. That, in itself, should speak volumes and confirm us in our belief.

We must pray daily for the pope and all the bishops. We must stand firm and not permit ourselves to be deceived by the many voices, particularly those coming from within the Church, who vociferously and persistently continue to argue for change, not only to the traditional teaching of the Church, but also for changes to its structures.

Always keep in mind these words of St Ambrose: “Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, et ibi ecclesia vita eternal.” (Where there is Peter there is the Church, where there is the Church there is life eternal.) When facing all those voices, which inevitably always sound so sincere and always come from such seemingly credible sources, always look to the pope, the successor St Peter, for direction. If the voices are in conflict with the pope, simply ignore them! This applies even if the voice belongs to a theologian, priest, religious or a Catholic newspaper or organisation! Do not let them confuse you or lead you astray!

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