FRIDAY HOMILY: The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter - It's not about furniture
It's about unity
We are celebrating the unity we have together as we are in communion with our Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ. This feast is especially significant this year as the Chair will be vacant in less than a week.
This feast also took on new personal meaning for me, as a priest of the Personal Ordinariate, when Pope Benedict named the new U.S Ordinariate for the Chair of St. Peter. We understood what was being expressed - our unity with the Church is not based on liturgy but rather is found through the chair and the one who sits upon it. The See of Peter embodies the fullness of the faith and, in communion with his successor, we can express our patrimony as Catholics.
Our Ordinary, Msgr. Jeffrey Steenson, emphasized this theme during his installation homily just one year ago.
The first principle of the Ordinariate is then about Christian unity. St. Basil the Great, the Church's greatest ecumenist, literally expended his life on the work of building bridges between orthodox brethren who shared a common faith, but who had become separated from one another in a Church badly fragmented by heresy and controversy. He taught that the work of Christian unity requires deliberate and ceaseless effort. Like an old coat which is always being torn and is difficult to mend, the unity of the Church must never be taken for granted but requires great diligence and courage from her leaders (Bas. Ep.113).
St. Basil often talked with yearning about the "archaia agape," the ancient love of the apostolic community, so rarely seen in the Church of his day. This love, he taught, is a visible sign that the Holy Spirit is indeed present and active, and it is absolutely essential for the health of the Church. I can't think of a better illustration for this homily than Bernini's great sculpture of the Chair of St. Peter in the apse of St. Peter's Basilica: Peter's chair is upheld by the great fathers of the Church; and, hovering over it all, the luminous alabaster dove, the Holy Spirit, bathing everything in the radiance of God's love.
Next week at this time, the chair will be empty. The period of Sede Vacante begins as we await the election of our new pope. As we approach this season of expectation, we are so vividly aware of the importance of this chair and who sits upon it.
You Are Peter
The Gospel passage for today is a familiar one. Here Peter and the others are asked a question and the inspired response from Peter leads to a special pronouncement.
When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"
Simon Peter said in reply, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus said to him in reply, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
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."
In the Protestant and Catholic divide, there has been a lot written and spoken about the words, "You are Peter and upon this Rock I will build my Church." To the confessional churches, this cannot be a man but the message only. Yet, God has always built on a person not simply a principle.
In the homily found in today's Office of Readings, Pope St. Leo the Great expounds on this declaration. In other words, as my Father has revealed to you my godhead, so I, in my turn, make known to you your pre-eminence. You are Peter: though I am the inviolable rock, the cornerstone that makes both one, the foundation apart from which no one can lay any other, yet you also are a rock, for you are given solidity by my strength, so that which is my very own because of my power is common between us through your participation.
And upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. On this strong foundation, he says, I will build an everlasting temple. The great height of my Church, which is to penetrate the heavens, shall rise on the firm foundation of this faith.
The gates of hell shall not silence this confession of faith; the chains of death shall not bind it. Its words are the words of life. As they lift up to heaven those who profess them, ...
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