"Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith." – Catechism of the Catholic Church
(Gospel Text: MT 16:13-19)
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.”
Given this gospel passage how ought we to respond to the authority of the papacy today?
We American Catholics live and breathe an anti-authoritarian culture. We love to hate authority figures. Our current culture loves to make fun of and disparage those who bear the burden and responsibility for leading, and to tell them how poorly they are doing. Some of our stance is historically due to poorly implemented leadership, but much of it is simply the consequence of sin in our lives. If we are honest with ourselves we will conclude that under the bonds of sin we don’t want to be liberated and led toward the Kingdom of God because we would generally rather worship ourselves as god.
The truth is, I grant authority to the one who does for me what I cannot do for myself. God alone is the ultimate doer of what needs to be done for me – thus he has ultimate authority. If he has chosen to give that authority into the hands of fallible humans to exercise on his behalf then I have a call to listen and obey for the sake of my own life – if I want to live in joy and peace.
It is a great moment of grace for the Church of our time that Pope Benedict XVI began his pontifical service with an Encyclical Letter on the Love of God and now ends it in a gesture of generosity and humility by resigning for the sake of the Church in the face of his growing limitations. In the words of today’s first reading we must all pray lovingly for him and for all presbyters among us: that they witness to the sufferings of Christ; that they tend to the flock willingly, and that they serve humbly, not lording it over those assigned.
For the next man to be chosen to sit on the Chair of Peter we pray for wisdom and faithfulness to the Spirit. For ourselves we pray for the humility and good sense to obey the right exercise of leadership . . .so that the Kingdom may come on earth as it is in heaven.