February 22, 2011 - Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, apostle

Today's Readings

Today we celebrate a very interesting feast: the Chair of St. Peter. This feast is not exactly in honor of a person, as most are, nor of an event, as others are, but of a chair. Of course we are not commemorating a piece of furniture today; the chair in question is “chair” like “chairman”, a position, an office. We celebrate today the founding of the position of the leader of the Church. Jesus Christ is the head of the Church; this office in no way replaces his office of high priest and king. God did not need Noah to build the ark, and he did not need Simon Peter to lead the Church. He chose to allow us humans positions of dignity as cooperators of his grace.

When Simon made the profession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, Jesus explains “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.” Because of this revelation, Jesus renames him Kephas, which in Greek is Petros. This was not a name; it means “The Rock”, like the movie star. Jesus then says “upon this rock I will build my Church.” Which rock? Not Simon Peter the man, who would deny Jesus three times. Jesus founds his Church upon an idea: the idea that God reveals the truth to a human being. Jesus is hereby instituting an office, the Chair, and choosing Simon for that office which will be the foundation rock of the Church. Along with the position comes certain powers: “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This language is the traditional language for a king to install a prime minister, a leader to serve under the king and do the day to day work of the kingdom.

Jesus makes a promise to Peter and therefore to the Church: “Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” This promise is often misunderstood. It is often treated as if it meant that the Church would be able to withstand any attack by evil, but this is backwards. He says that the “gates”, the defenses of Hell, will not be able to stand against the Church. It is the Church who is attacking evil, and we will be victorious.