Authority to Service

Author: Fr. Miguel Marie Soeherman, MFVA

Authority to Service

Fr. Miguel Marie Soeherman, MFVA

Given on 02/22/2007

Feast of the Chair of St. Peter

7am TV Mass

Today is the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter.  And this does not mean that we celebrate the actual physical chair. What we celebrate is the authority of Saint Peter the apostle.  What we celebrate is the authority of all the successors of Saint Peter.  And we know that his authority is not something that he invented on his own.  His authority comes from Jesus Christ Himself, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, the Founder of the Catholic Church two thousand plus years ago. 

We heard in the Gospel proclaimed earlier: “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”  And then Jesus gave Peter the authority to rule over His Church: “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven.  Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven.” 

There's the authority Jesus gave to Peter!  Whatever Peter and his successors bind on earth, then it shall be bound in Heaven!  Whatever Peter and his successors loose on earth, then it shall be loosed in Heaven!  This is what we call the “Power of the Keys”.

As the Catechism states (cf. #553):

The ‘Power of the Keys’ designates authority to govern the House of God which is the Church.  The power to bind and loose connotes the authority to absolve sins.  The power to bind and loose connotes the authority to pronounce doctrinal judgments.  The power to bind and loose connotes the authority to make disciplinary decisions in the Church.

So it is Jesus Himself, the Good Shepherd, who confirmed this mandate after His resurrection!  Our Lord asked Peter whether he loves him.  Peter responded, "Yes, Lord I love you."  Then Our Lord said to Peter three times: "Feed my lambs... tend my sheep... feed my sheep.”

St. Cyprian from the third century said:

On him Our Lord builds the Church, and to Peter He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity.  Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair...  If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith?  If he desert the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?

I know that our viewers are not strictly all Catholics.  We have non-Catholics who even watch the Mass regularly.  Sometimes I get letters from Protestant ministers who encourage us in that we are doing here at the network.  Praise God for the wonderful work the Holy Spirit is doing in the network!

I’m aware also that many Catholics struggle with the authority of Peter.  Sad to say but even some Catholics struggle with the authority of Peter as well!

I think part of the hurdle is understanding what “authority” is... specifically the teaching authority that Our Lord Himself has given to Peter and his successors.  The world's understanding of “authority” is not the same as the Gospels’ understanding of “authority.”  The world's “authority” is about having all the power to make others feel that you are powerful!  It is like a dictator's role.  On the other hand, the Gospel's “authority” is about having that power as well but not to make others feel the power.  Instead having the power for the purpose of serving others... the power to serve... the power to wash feet!  Having the authority which comes from Jesus Himself in order to serve all the Disciples of Christ!  Not just in the Catholic Church but throughout the whole world!

Let me read you what His Holiness said two years ago (5/7/2005) when he took possession of the Chair of Peter.  He said the following:

This power of teaching frightens many people in and outside the Church.  They wonder whether freedom of conscience is threatened or whether it is a presumption opposed to freedom of thought.  It is not like this.  The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors is in an absolute sense a mandate to serve.  The power of teaching in the Church involves a commitment to the service of obedience to the faith.  The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law.  On the contrary, the Pope's ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and His Word.  He must not proclaim his own ideas.  Rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's word in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down and every form of opportunism.”

How consoling that is to hear from our own beloved Holy Father!  He knows deeply that he must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God's word.  This is the authority of service that he has from Christ!  This is what “authority” means:  the authority to tend His lambs, the authority to feed His flock, the authority to feed His sheep.  That is why the Pope's sublime title is  "The Servant of the Servants of God."

And last year on today's feast, the Holy Father pointed out that celebrating the Chair of Peter means celebrating God's love for us.  God loves us, and He wishes to unite the whole of His Church.  He wishes to lead the Church He founded along the way of salvation. 

So the feast of Chair of Peter not only reminds us of our beloved Holy Father’s sublime office and responsibility (thus, the need to support him with our love, prayers, and sacrifices), and most importantly to listen to him!  At the same time, it reminds us of God's divine plan for all eternity: He wills to save the world through the very Church He founded 2000 plus years ago.

 Finally, I conclude with Saint Jerome’s quote: "I follow no leader but Christ, so I consult the Chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built."