Our Lord handing the keys to St Peter (Detail) Pietro Perugino
A Question Regarding Christ and the Church
Paris, August 24, 2014 (Zenit.org)
1) Life must answer. Who is Christ?
This question, which is always present and that cannot be eliminated, is addressed to the world, to the disciples and today to us.
The world, that is the people, responds in the best of cases that the Messiah is a prophet, God’s voice and breathing. It is a good response but it is wrong, especially since Jesus is not reducible to one of the religious leaders who have said and done great things or carried into the world an interesting and profound message. The answer cannot cover only the historical existence of Christ, his work and his teaching.
Peter, on behalf of the disciples, replies: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”, highlighting what for many is a strange “claim”: Christ is not only an important historical figure, He is not only true, but also He is alive. So the problem is not to know in the same way we know about a theory of the past, although still believed today, but to meet Him, the true Life that gives life then, now and always. We today, in the wake of Peter’s response, are called to answer that Christ not only existed and is true, but also that he is knowable and can be encountered. He is alive and present, he is the God of the living flower and not the dead thoughts.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, there are two ways of knowing Christ. The first is the one of an external knowledge, characterized by the current thinking and by the reduction of the Messiah to a person as great as the prophets. In fact, Jesus’ question: “Who do men say that the Son of Man is?”, The disciples answer: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” That is to say that Christ is considered as a religious personality, perhaps the largest but similar to those already known.
The second is the knowledge that comes from the experience of communion. In fact, addressing each of one of the disciples who had been with Him for a long time, Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” From his life with Christ and the experience of communion with Jesus, Peter draws the answer by giving what is the first confession of faith: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is the profession of faith made also on behalf of the other disciples. Faith goes beyond mere empirical or historical data, and is able to grasp the mystery of Christ’s person in all its depth. Faith is born from the encounter and grows in the daily renewal of this encounter between Christ, Peter and the other disciples that is us, the children of God and of the Church.
2) The Church and the Pope, guarantors of truth and charity.
Today’s Gospel passage doesn’t speak only of Christ and of Peter, but also of the Church. It tells us, first, that the Church belongs to Christ, “My Church”, and underlines its enduring stability. The Church is like a house built on the rock although if apparently based on the fragility of men: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it “. It is a stability suffered, but secure.
It is suffered because the key Christ is talking about and that He gives to Peter, is the Cross. It is secure because it is founded on the rock of a solid faith and a granitic love. Peter is the rock because he still conveys Christ, love for all humanity and because he shows that God is alive among us and calls us to participate in his crucified love, unarmed1, constant,2 and everlasting. “Who do you say that I am?” Christ asked to his disciples and Peter said “God.” Christ was not only what Peter was saying of him, but also what he lived: “Master, only You have the words of eternal life.” Christianity before being a doctrine and ethics, is a Person who loves and is loved. The love of God has written his story on the body of Christ with the alphabet of wounds, indelible as love. The two images of the rock and the keys which Jesus uses, are very clear: Peter will be the solid foundation on which to build the edifice of the Church. He will have the keys of the Kingdom of heaven to open or close it to the ones he sees fit for, according to truth and charity. He will be able to bind and loose in the sense of establishing or prohibiting whatever he deems necessary for the life of the Church, which is and remains of Christ. It is always the Church of Christ and not of Peter.
These two pictures speak of faith and trust, of Simon’s faith and of Jesus’ trust. The stone or the rock highlight the stability of believing as does the Hebrew word amen which means “I’m steady.” It is the rock that holds the house. And it is to this Rock which is given full authority: “He is entrusted with the keys” to prohibit and permit, separate and forgive. Do not forget, however, that the authority of Peter is vicarious. Peter is the image of an Other, of Christ, who is the true Lord of the Church. The faith that emerges from these words: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” is not the result of a speculation, it has nothing to do with “flesh and blood.” If it had been only for “the flesh and the blood”, Peter would have seen in Jesus only “one of the prophets”. Before Jesus the “thinking of men,” however subtle and intelligent, is not enough.
God, in fact, “liked to hide these things from the wise and prudent to reveal them to little ones. ” In the moment in which, on behalf of the whole Church, Peter professes the foundation of faith, he is the littlest of his little brothers, but he loves Christ more than any other. For this reason, and for this alone, he became the first irreplaceable apex of communion. This is not a pious exercise of humility, but truth personified and loved more than himself. And it is on Peter that He loved more than all the others, on solid stone of love that Jesus built His Church and the gates of Hell have not and will not prevail on it. The weight and the glory of the First among the Apostles, like those of his successors, are born from the divine sign imprinted in his heart and in his mind. Peter will have to fight every day to ward off “flesh and blood”.
Peter must take to protect Truth and Communion every day by accepting the delivery of the keys, the Cross that has opened the doors of Paradise. The Cross is the “key” with which the Lord has opened heaven and closed hell for all those who welcome Him, the Crucified. The Cross is the ministry of Peter and his successors, who can shepherd the faithful because they are the first in love, a humble and meek love that “unbinds” men from the bondage to the world, the flesh and the devil, and “binds” them to Christ in an eternal brotherhood that makes them forever children of the heavenly Father.
3) The Marian principle.
Not only Peter, but in him and with him the whole Church says: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” From that day on, Peter and the Church announced the faith that overcomes the world in every square inch, ready to get dirty like Jesus in the search for any lost sheep, as Pope Francis often reminds us. All of us are called to recognize the love of God in the most difficult situations where sin “binds” men to pain and death, to “unbind” them in the freedom of God’s children. But we must keep in mind that in the Church, in addition to Petrine3 principle, there is the Marian principle. In the encyclical letter Mulieris dignitatem, John Paul II reminds us that Mary is the “Queen of the Apostles” without claiming apostolic powers for herself. She has something else and something more. What is the “something more” of the Marian principle in the church? Hans Urs Von Balthasar tells us that Mary disappears in the heart of the Church to remain as a real presence that always gives way to her Son. This principle is well guarded and “sponsored” by the consecrated Virgins in the world. It is love maternally4 experienced and welcomed. In fact, in response to their vocation, these consecrated women live the Marian principle as a welcome. They live in the dimension of the welcome and the actualization of the life-giving gift of salvation in today’s humanity, essential dimension of Christian and ecclesial life that has its model in Mary, Virgin and Mother. At the moment of the Annunciation, with her “yes”, the young woman of Nazareth welcomed the Word of God and gave Him human flesh. At the foot of the Cross, Mary was invested by a new maternity which embraced and continues to embrace the whole of humanity. With a new “yes”, he accepted the will of God pointed out to her by the dying Jesus, and returned to God the Father the Son whom she has conceived, accepting in his place John, and in him the entire humanity. The consecrated Virgins are invited to practice this fertility by the prayer of the Bishop: “May the Lord Jesus Christ, with whose sacred heart the hearts of virgins are united, fill you with his divine love. May the Holy Spirit, by whom the Virgin Mary conceived her Son, today consecrate your hearts and fill you with a burning desire to serve God and his Church. “(Rite of consecration of Virgins, n. 36). These women, following the example of Mary, practice “charity in unity” (St. Augustine), living the consecration to the Bridegroom Jesus with a life centered on love received, reciprocated and given.