26 August 2011

Truth Is

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
            Our first reading and Gospel focus on keys: the keys of the house of David and the keys of the kingdom of heaven.  We’re no strangers to the power of keys.  Just imagine (or remember, depending on the person) the terror that enters a person’s heart when he or she suddenly realizes that the keys are locked in the house, or the car, or are lost somewhere.  Or think about the real pain that is caused when a parent tells the teen that the privilege of having keys to the car is gone as a punishment for some bad behavior, or, when the tables are turned, when a child has to tell their parents that they no longer have the privilege of the keys and that they can no longer drive out of a concern of safety for the parents and for others. 
But keys are not simply taken away.  When keys are given, it’s a great experience of freedom.  Think about the joy that you had, or that your kids have, when you first get the keys to the car after you’ve gone through driver’s ed.  Think about the joy that comes when you’ve gone through what seems like a mountain of paperwork and you are finally handed the keys to your new home.  Keys can be a very uplifting aspect of our lives, not just a negative one.
In the first reading, we do get a more negative sense of the keys, because they are being taken away from Shebna, the master of the palace.  Earlier in this same chapter, the Lord condemns Shebna with being more concerned with monuments to his glory than with God’s own people.  And so God speaks through Isaiah to say, “‘I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open.’”  Eliakim becomes the new bearer of authority and power, because he has the keys to the House of David, the royal house.  Eliakim, and no longer Shebna, gets to decide who can enter the House of David, and who will remain outside.  He is the gatekeeper, now, to Shebna’s shame.  Shebna is like the young driver that just lost his driving privileges.
Statue of St. Peter near the
Sea of Galillee
In our Gospel, though, St. Peter is given the keys, which are not taken from another, but are given freely as a gift.  And this gift comes as a reward for the faith that Peter exhibits at this moment (although at others he doesn’t show such a great faith).  Jesus asks the disciples who others think He is.  It’s almost as if Jesus is posting, “Truth is…” to his disciples, except that Jesus wants to know what others think about Him, rather that posting what He thinks about others.  And when Peter, by the grace of God, is able to say the words, “‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,’” Jesus responds to those words with even more powerful words, words that ring the interior base of the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome: “‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.’” 
We lose the connection that existed in the original Aramaic that Jesus spoke, but which is still communicated in the Greek (in which the Gospel according to St. Matthew was first written) or even the Latin, which was copied by St. Jerome from the Greek.  In Latin we would hear, “Tu es Petrus et super hanc petram…”  We hear more clearly that our Lord, who gives Simon the new name of Peter, meaning a new identity that he has, just like Jacob was renamed Israel by God in the Old Testament, makes Peter the rock upon whom the Church is built.  Peter gains the special ministry to act not only in the person of Christ, but as Christ’s vicar on earth.  Peter is the Rock.  Petrus est petram. 
And while all the apostles, in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John, will receive the power to forgive sins through the words, “‘Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,’” Jesus says to Peter alone, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.’”  This unique authority is given to St. Peter alone, and is part of the basis for the Catholic teaching on the unique role of the Pope as Head of the Apostolic College (the bishops united as one), just as Peter is the Prince of the Apostles. 
This power and authority, really a service to the unity of the disciples of Christ, continues today through the Petrine Ministry of the pope.  The Pope, as successor of St. Peter, continues to hold the keys, allowing him, either by himself, or as the head of the college of bishops, to guide all of us in knowing how the teachings of Christ apply to today’s situations, letting some things in, and keeping others out.  Some may not like that the pope, as successor of St. Peter, has the power of the keys, but they’re not our keys!  The keys belong to Christ, and He bestowed them on Peter; not because he was the bravest, or the wisest, or the holiest.  But, Jesus knew that Peter was the one to receive them according to the plan of God.  The great news is that, if we stick with St. Peter and his successor, then we’re sticking with the guy who has the keys into the house that Jesus promised he had prepared for us, just like when we are young, if we stick with our parents, we’ll always be able to get into our house.
Pope Benedict XVI at the Mass of the Rings
More often than not we hear people nay-saying the pope.  Someone always has some kind of complaint about this or that homily, this or that teaching, what he wears, how he celebrates Mass, etc., etc.  Today I want to be clear to you: I love the pope.  I thank God now for Pope Benedict XVI, just as I thanked God years ago for Pope Bl. John Paul II.  I thank God for the pope’s leadership, his teachings, and all that he has done to guide the Church to further holiness, while he himself strives to be a saint.  I hope that you, too, will join me in praying for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, as he fulfills his Petrine Ministry, and show your love and support for him, especially when he is under baseless attacks from others that we know.  Is Pope Benedict perfect?  Certainly not.  Neither was St. Peter.  Pope Benedict is, however, striving for perfection just like you and me.  But he’s our pope who has been given a special mission by Jesus to guide the Church into greater holiness.  And, after all, he has the keys!