February 22: Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle—Feast

February 22: Chair of Saint Peter, Apostle—Feast

 In Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, visitors are immediately struck by the large alabaster window on the back wall of the apse that depicts the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. Below the window is an ancient wooden chair, believed to have been used by Saint Peter. In the seventeenth century, that ancient chair was encased in bronze by the famous artist Bernini and then placed above the altar in the apse. Surrounding the chair are statues of four early Doctors of the Church. Two of them represent the Eastern Church: Saint John Chrysostom and St. Athanasius. Two of them represent the Western Church: Saint Ambrose and Saint Augustine. These great saints represent the universality of the Church, both East and West, as well as the unity of their theological teaching with the authority of the Bishop of Rome. Above the chair are two angels jointly holding the triple crown tiara used by the Bishop of Rome, symbolizing that he is the father of kings, governor of the world, and Vicar of Christ. In their other hands, each angel holds a key, symbolizing the authority of the Bishop of Rome in matters of faith and morals.

Today’s feast celebrates not only that chair as a precious relic from the time of Saint Peter, it also celebrates all that this chair represents. This feast was formally celebrated in Rome as early as the fourth century, but honor for the supremacy of Saint Peter and his successors was celebrated from the moment Jesus entrusted Peter with his unique mission.

In the Gospel of Matthew 16:13–20, we have the discourse between Jesus and His disciples, which is the basis of today’s feast and our belief in the unique and universal authority of Saint Peter and his successors. Jesus asked the disciples, “[W]ho do you say that I am?” Simon responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” With that profession of faith, Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, saying to him, “And I tell you, you are Peter (Petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church.” “Peter” in Greek is Petros, meaning a single movable stone. The Greek word petra means a solid rock formation that is fixed, immovable, and enduring. Therefore, Jesus chose to transform Peter from a single stone into a solid, fixed, and immovable foundation of rock on which the Church would be built and endure until the end of time. Jesus went on to tell Peter that He would give him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven and that whatever he bound and loosed on earth would be bound and loosed in Heaven.

It’s interesting to note that immediately after this discourse between Jesus and Peter, Jesus rebukes Peter for giving into fear after Jesus spoke about His impending death. While in the Garden of Gethsemane, on the eve of Jesus’ saving Passion, Peter chooses to sleep rather than stay awake and pray with Jesus. Then, after Jesus is arrested, Peter denies three times that he even knows Jesus. God chose a man of weakness and fear to become the rock foundation for the Church. This shows that God’s power is not limited by the instruments to whom He entrusts His power.

After Jesus’ ascension into Heaven, Peter and the others are filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. After this gift, Peter is more prepared for his mission. He is the first one to go forth courageously to preach the Word of God to the people in Jerusalem. He resolved conflicts within the Church when they arose. He became the first bishop of the newly evangelized city of Antioch and then chose to go to Rome, becoming the first bishop of Rome, where he would die a martyr. However, the death of Saint Peter was not the death of his authority and singular mission. Saint Linus followed him as the second bishop of Rome, and then Saint Cletus, Saint Clement, and so forth until today.

Of the pope’s authority, Vatican Councils I and II affirmed that when the pope speaks Ex Cathedra, meaning, “From the Chair,” he speaks with the authority of Saint Peter who was entrusted with full, supreme, and universal authority to teach and govern. His teaching extends to all matters of faith and morals, and his governance encompasses the entire world. (Lumen Gentium, #22).

As we ponder the authority and infallibility of the one who sits in the Chair of Saint Peter, try to see this sacred power, given to one weak and sinful man after another, as an act of the love of Christ for His Church. It is the power of Christ and His divine love that makes it possible for these men to shepherd the Church, providing stability, longevity, certitude, and hope. When popes are also saints, we are doubly blessed. When they are not, our Lord still works through them, providing the Church with the ongoing rock foundation it needs to endure all things until the end of time. Pray for the pope today. Pledge your obedience to him when he speaks Ex Cathedra, and know that your unity with him ensures your unity with Christ, Who governs through him.

Prayer: Saint Peter, you were a weak and sinful man, but God entrusted you with great responsibility, despite your unworthiness. Please pray for me, that despite my unworthiness, I may be open to all that God entrusts to me and that I may use those gifts for His glory and the salvation of souls. Saint Peter and all your successors in Heaven, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.

Third Week of Lent-March 2-3

The Third Sunday of Lent (Year A)
(Note: This Gospel is also optional for Years B & C with the Scrutinies.)

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”   John 4:5–7

Today, throughout the world, Catholic liturgies will celebrate the first of three Scrutinies of those adults who are preparing to receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. The word “scrutiny” comes from the Latin word scrutari which means an inquiry, close examination or search of something. It originally referred to rummaging through rubbish so as to find something of value. In a sense, this is what God does with all of us. When we first turn to Him, He sorts through the disorder of our fallen human nature and our sins so as to point to the goodness and beauty of the child He created. As for the liturgical rite that will be celebrated in churches throughout the world today, the Right of Christian Initiation of Adults describes it as follows: “The scrutinies are meant to uncover, and then heal all that is weak, defective, or sinful in the hearts of the elect; to bring out, then strengthen all that is upright, strong, and good” (#141). The Gospel story we read today depicts this action beautifully. It is the long and inspiring story of the woman at the well. This story is filled with symbolism, much of which the casual reader could easily miss.

To begin, it is important to prayerfully imagine the scene. Jesus was all alone sitting next to Jacob’s Well around noon. Few women would come to the well at that time of day due to the heat. But this woman came at this time because she knew others would not be around. She was a sinner, and many of the other women of the town knew it. Therefore, in an attempt to avoid them and avoid feeling shame, she came at a time when she could avoid the other women. So the first thing to consider is the suffering this woman was enduring because of her shame and embarrassment over her sinful life.



Second Week of Lent-February 17-18

Continuing the Mission

Second Sunday of Lent (Year A)

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Matthew 17:1–3

This was not the first time that the Son of God spoke to Moses and Elijah on a high mountain. Recall that Moses was called up to Mount Sinai (also called Horeb) to be with the Lord for forty days and forty nights, during which time the finger of God inscribed the Law on tablets, given to Moses to give to the people. During that time, the Israelites, from the base of the mountain, saw the summit consumed in fire. Similarly, Elijah, the great prophet, was called up that same mountain to encounter the Lord. He entered a cave and waited. Elijah then encountered a strong and violent wind, an earthquake and a fire. But God was not in any of them. Then Elijah heard a light quiet sound, a whisper, and he hid his face out of reverence as the Lord spoke to him.

In the experience of the Transfiguration, which we ponder today, the Son of God, now in the flesh, allowed His glory to once again shine forth. As He did, He conversed with Moses and Elijah in the presence of three of His disciples. These disciples were in awe, just as Moses and Elijah had been during their first encounters with God on Mount Sinai. These two great Old Testament figures now stand as witnesses of God’s unfolding plan, revealing by their presence that Jesus is the fulfillment of all they had been entrusted to teach in their lifetime.



Fourth Week of Lent-March 9-10

The Holy Drama of Grace

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year A)
(Note: This Gospel is also optional for Years B & C with Scrutinies.)

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. John 9:35–38

This is the conclusion to the story of the healing of the man born blind. It is the fifth of seven signs (miracles) in John’s Gospel that point to the divinity of our Lord. This healing especially confirmed Jesus’ teaching from the previous chapter: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus was the Light Who came to dispel all darkness, and now He illustrates this fact by opening the eyes of the blind man. This story is quite long and detailed. The details it includes makes it much more than a miracle. It is also a dramatic story revealing both the consequences of rejecting Jesus, as well as the blessings received by one who turns to Jesus in faith.

We begin with the detail that this man has been blind since birth. It was a common misconception at that time that such a birth defect might have been caused by the sins of the parents. In part, this came from a misreading of Exodus 20:5–6 in which God said that He inflicts punishment “on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.” Jesus makes it clear that this was not the case; this man’s blindness was a result of the natural disorder experienced by humanity as a result of original sin. If humanity had never been cast out of the Garden of Eden, disease and natural disorders would have never existed. For this reason, we should understand that we are all “blind” in the sense of being born into the state of original sin and are, therefore, in need of the grace of spiritual sight.

The healing of this man is done purely on Jesus’ initiative. This shows that God’s healing action in our lives is always His initiative. But Jesus clearly offered this man healing because He knew the man would eventually come to faith in Him, which is the far more important healing that took place in this story.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ Weekend of June 10 & 11

Among the compelling Eucharistic themes proclaimed in
today’s readings is the notion of “participation” as found
in Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. Good stewards
are part of a Eucharistic family: loving, welcoming,
serving. An important part of living as a steward comes
about in the many ways we can participate in the life of
the Church. No matter how much time we have to give,
no matter what our skills or interests, no matter what our
level of commitment, there is a way to participate as a
good steward to enrich our lives and the lives of others
to build up the Body of Christ. How do you participate in
the life of your parish?

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity Weekend of June 3 & 4

In today’s second reading Saint Paul’s final appeal is a
call for unity. God created that unity. Good stewards
who share Christ’s life in the Eucharist belong to each
other, just as God in the three persons of Father, Son and
Holy Spirit enjoy unity. We are an intimate part of God’s
divine bond, God’s “family.” Saint Paul maintains that
we ought to act that way. In the Church there is a bond
of family, yet plenty room for variety. Christian stewards
use their uniquely varied gifts to live a Trinitarian faith, in
unity, promoting Christ’s peace and justice. How do we
promote unity in our parish?