CHAIR OF ST. PETER - FEB. 22
During this year of the priest, we have been highlighting one of the Apostles each month at our Associate days in the Bronx. Our apostolic feast day for February is the Chair of St. Peter.
Certainly we are honoring something greater than a piece of furniture, and something even greater than St. Peter himself, as great of a personal figure as he was. We know his weaknesses. I presume our Lord was so insistent on washing Peter’s feet at the Last Supper because He had seen that he often had his “foot in his mouth.” (!) Yet Jesus called him blessed because he was given a word of truth, a revelation that came not from man but from God the Father (see Mt. 16:17).
The Chair of Peter reminds us that we don’t belong to a man-made Church. We are not left on our own to answer the question of who Jesus is. We are not left to “sola-Scriptura,” the Bible alone, which ends really in “O solo mio….”, to my own interpretation. Vatican II taught us that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are two branches of the same fountain, the same Divine Word.
Although human nature tends to rebel against religious authority, the fact that Christ gave authority and a guarantee of truth in matters of faith and morals to another human being is a great blessing. We have someone who can say for certain what it means to be a Catholic, which not every world religion has. (For example, some Muslims will say the problem with any dialogue with Islam and other religions is that no one can definitively say what it means to be a Muslim.) A personal authority, a Body with a head, means also that theology can develop with language and understanding. We are not left to keeping everything exactly as it was, in the liturgy for example, in 35 AD. We have a continuity of authority which means that theological understanding can “change to remain the same” as language and societies change.
We can think of four facets of papal infallibility like four legs of this Chair. One is for truth in doctrines of faith, one for truth in doctrines of morals, one for bringing unity, and one for the authority to “bind and loose” in regard to sin and penalties. How amazing that Christ gave such authority to men, beginning with his fisherman friend. The perseverance of this chair, this office, over the ages is another way that Christ is with us always, even until the end of world.
- Fr. Richard Roemer, CFR