The keys to the car—The keys to the house—How about, “Dad, may I have the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven?”
We have before us in the Gospel today bold and famous words of confession and faith from Simon bar-Jonah, renamed PETER; and amazing words from Jesus that bestow position and authority—the giving to Peter of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Well, there you have it! There is hardly anything in all of scripture that screams ROMAN CATHOLIC more loudly than these words. Faith and assent to Peter’s keys along with the Church’s power “to bind and loose” continues both to be our remaining major specific difference from most Christian denominations and, what is more, a persistent stumbling block to the ecumenical process.
If we were to think of “the keys” and the authority to “bind and loose” as items of clothing, how would you describe the differences, if any, between popes St. John Paul, Benedict, and Francis as to how they looked in them or wore them? Now consider there have been 265 popes since St. Peter. All have accepted “The Fisherman’s Ring” in their own time and their own place (not necessarily Rome). All have expected the faithful to place their trust in the authority given them.
Over 41 years I have heard people (Roman Catholics) talk about the reigning pope and I have distinctly recognized a variance in level of trust—usually falling along lines of conservative/liberal, with not much room in between. But isn’t there something less given to interpretation about the authority of the pope? Isn’t there more to it than the mood or the personality of the reigning Bishop of Rome? Right now, of course, we have a pope and a pope emeritus. What’s a Catholic to think? What are we telling our children?
No bragging here, but actually the whole authority of the pope and even the whole infallibility thing have not been problems for me my entire priesthood. That is because I figured out a long time ago (and was taught very well) that the pope’s authority and his infallibility are not about him, but about Jesus’ Way, Truth, and Life abiding in His Church. Of what good would our Church be, or of what worth, if Jesus’ truth was not in it? For any pope, for any ecumenical council, or for all the faithful in communion of belief, only Divine Assistance renders Divine Truth accessible and only in matters of faith and morals (that is, in matters of what we believe and what we hold sacred and how we conduct ourselves according to what we believe). So what’s the problem? No problem.
Anyway, for us mere mortals (including the one who is currently holding “The Keys” in Rome), it is important to note that next Sunday’s gospel passage—same chapter of Matthew (16)—follows “the giving of the keys” with one of the worst tongue lashings ever to be uttered from Jesus’ mouth, and it is aimed at “Mr. Keys of the Kingdom” himself—PETER. For crying out loud, Jesus calls him “Satan!” —I guess we’re just never too old or too important enough not to get spanked, if needed. Has Msgr. Richard ever been spanked (figuratively of course) by his superiors? Mind your own business. During this time of acute persecution of Christians, Archbishop José H. Gomez asks us to consider this prayer, composed by His Beatitude Louis Rafael Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq.
Lord, The plight of our country is deep and the suffering of Christians is severe and frightening. Therefore, we ask you Lord to spare our lives, and to grant us patience, and courage to continue our witness of Christian values with trust and hope. Lord, peace is the foundation of life; Grant us the peace and stability that will enable us to live with each other without fear and anxiety, and with dignity and joy. Glory be to you forever.
—Louis Rafael Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Iraq