Friday February 22, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Lent
Reading (1 Peter 5:1-4) Gospel (St. Matthew 16:13-19)
Today, as we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter, it is really a celebration of the authority that Our Lord has given to Saint Peter. When, in the ancient world, the rabbis would teach authoritatively, they would sit down. Everybody knew that when they sat down what was going to come out was not just opinion - it was not something they could take or leave - it was an authoritative teaching. Jesus refers in the Gospels to the chair of Moses to demonstrate the authority that Moses had over the entire people of God. Therefore, we now celebrate the chair of Peter because of the authority that Peter and his successors have over the entire people of God.
Now, we have to be clear about this notion of authority. It is not something which can be used as a power thing; it is not to be lorded over the people. Saint Peter himself recognized what it was about, and he says to the other elders that he himself, a fellow elder, is appealing to them. He says, "God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care," and then tells them to watch over it willingly as God would have them do, not under coercion, not for shameful profit, not lording it over them, but being an example to them so that when the Chief Shepherd appears they themselves will win a crown of unfading glory.
So the authority that is given, whether it is to Saint Peter, the bishops, parents, teachers, or anyone, is given for service, not for one's own glory but to serve the needs of the people entrusted to your care. That is what Jesus has given to Saint Peter - a share in His own authority. We heard in the Gospel that Peter is the rock. God is the Rock. We hear Peter tell us that he is an elder and that he is a shepherd. Jesus gave to Peter a share in His shepherding task, but Jesus Himself is the Good Shepherd. Peter is the Prime Minister, and that is why he receives and wears the keys. Jesus is the King, giving to Peter a share in His kingly authority. And so, the One who is the King in Israel, the One who is the Shepherd, the One who is the Rock, is God. But Peter has a share in that authority, in each of those offices. That is what we are celebrating today: the authority that God has given in His Church to Saint Peter and to his successors - which is a critically important office - so that all of us would be able to look to one single point of unity. When we know that we are in union with Saint Peter, then we know that we are in union with Christ because the task of the Pope is to keep everything together and to lead us all in the same direction, to shepherd us according to the Good Shepherd. He has to follow Christ and we follow him. That is the point that we are celebrating today.
So when we make ourselves obedient to the authority of Jesus Christ, it is then to be obedient to the authority of the one that Our Lord Himself has assigned so that we will have the absolute confidence and assurance that whatever he holds bound on earth is held bound in Heaven and whatever he looses on earth is loosed in Heaven. As long as we are obedient and docile to the authority of the Pope, we are following Jesus Christ in obedience and docility. That is exactly what Our Lord requires of each one of us. And so, the wonderful thing that He has done for us is not to say, "It's up to you; just follow Me to the best of your ability," but He has given to us a visible head, a visible shepherd, so that while He Himself is reigning in glory in Heaven, there is someone here on earth that we can all look to, that we can all follow, and that we can all be united in so that, united to Peter, we are united to Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.