There are three very important themes that we can reflect on from today’s Gospel.
Jesus’ Incarnation, Redemption, Resurrection and Ascension – the Nicene Creed
Every Christian believes that Jesus Christ established and sustains a community of faith, hope and love for all believers. This community we call His Church. The Church that Christ founded is the Catholic Church which has a formal earthly structure established by Christ and which continues under His authority and protection.
In the Old Testament we see God’s continual involvement in the lives of the Israelites through appointed prophets. God delivered, instructed and admonished the Israelites. He made His motions in a visible, specific and formal way. He always did so through human hands, mouths, feet, minds and wills. God established a law and a means for executing it. In concert with His redemptive act, Jesus did three things that established the framework of His Church.
First, He chose humans to carry out His work. He appointed Peter to be the visible head of the Church. Jesus said to Peter, “You are Rock and on this rock I will build my Church.” (Matthew 16: 18) Jesus said “build,” as in to create a structure. Jesus built His structure on specifically chosen human beings Peter and the apostles.
Second, Jesus gave Peter and the apostles the power and authority to carry out His work. “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.”(Matthew 16:19; 18:18) “Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whose sins you retain, they are retained.”(John 20:23)
Third, Jesus gave Peter and the Apostles commands as to what that work should be. At the last supper, He commanded, “Do this in memory of Me.” (Luke 22:19) He commanded them to “Make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and to “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
The early Church was structured in a hierarchical manner as it is today. We see in Acts, chapter 15 how the apostles and the elders came together under the leadership of St. Peter to decide the question of what was required of Gentiles. We also see how St. Peter was regarded as the head of the Church when St. Paul, “Went up to Jerusalem to confer with Kephas [Peter] and remained with him fifteen days.” (Galatians 1:18) There is no Scriptural evidence of independent local churches.
The Catholic Church is the only church that can claim to have been founded by Christ personally. Every other church traces its lineage back to a mere human person such as Martin Luther or John Wesley. The Catholic Church can trace its lineage back to Jesus Christ who appointed St. Peter as the first pope. This line of popes has continued unbroken for almost 2,000 years.
God rules, instructs and sanctifies His people through His Church. Under her teaching office, the Catholic Church preserves the Word of God. She is the custodian, keeper, dispenser and interpreter of teachings of Christ. And she accomplishes this under the protection of the Holy Spirit.
We live in a democratic society. Yet believing in democracy does not mean that we do not have leadership. In fact, there is not a single country in the world which does not have a single ruler as head of the state; even if his or her powers are limited in one way or another. As human beings, we need to see in important communities a leader who acts with the authority of that particular state or institution. The Catholic Church is the oldest and largest organized body in the world, with a 1.285 billion members worldwide. Our leader is called affectionately “the Pope”, which means “Father”. We call the Pope “Father”, just as Catholics call their priest “Father”, because the Pope represents God as our Father, who loves us, who made us, and who sent his Son to die on the cross for us. The Pope represents God our Father in a special way, because like a good parent he guards the truth of the revelation which Jesus Christ handed on to his apostles (followers), the chief of whom was Simon whom Jesus called in his own language Cephas, meaning “Rock”. We believe that the present Pope is the successor of Peter, the Fisherman.
During his lifetime, Jesus made Peter the leader of his church on earth, to take over when Jesus died, rose again from the dead, and went to be with his Father in heaven. He said to Peter, after Simon had named Jesus as “the Son of the Living God”; “Simon, Son of John, flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I say that you are Peter (the Rock) and on this Rock I will build my Church [Matthew 16:17-19] Jesus was giving Peter an immense authority; to act for Christ in guarding the truth, indeed to excommunicate (deprive of the right of Church membership) those who did not keep that truth, or who behaved in such a way which was contrary to the ethics of God’s people. There have been more than 265 Popes since then, as successors of Peter. They are like Peter, human, with no doubt human failings. But we believe as Catholics that they share his authority. The Holy Spirit we believe gives the Pope, together with all the Catholic bishops of the world, the special gift to be able to discern the true faith, and to teach that faith to the church and to the world.
Like a democratic country, as we have said, we have therefore a single leader. But unlike a democracy, we believe that the Pope has the authority to teach with or without the consent of individual members of the Church. After all, Jesus did not ask for a vote when he decided to give himself up to die on the cross. His disciples would have voted against it! We do not believe that we have the power to change the teaching in the Bible such as the Ten Commandments, or the commandment to love. That is part of what we call the “magisterium”, that is the teaching authority of the Church, handed on to us in the Bible and in the living Tradition of the Church, concerning which the Pope is as our “Father” on earth the guardian.
As Catholic we love Jesus Christ our master and Lord, love the Catholic Church and pray for the successor of St. Peter.