Tag Archives: St. Peter

Going to the Lost Sheep

10 Jul

calling of disciplesIn today’s Gospel, we hear St. Matthew’s account of the call of the Twelve Apostles (Mt. 10:1-7). Two points really struck me as I listened to the inspired text.

First, the New Testament gives us four lists of the Apostles (Mt. 10:2-4; Mk. 3:14-19; Lk. 6:13-16; Acts 1:13, 26). The four lists are not identical, but they all mention St. Peter first. Three different apostles (Andrew, James or John) are named second, depending on which list we’re reading, but Peter is always first.

This is a fairly simple point, but nonetheless an important one that strongly suggests the recognition of the primacy of Peter among the Twelve. This is completely separate from a study of other significant scenes where Our Lord addresses Peter alone (especially Matthew 16, Luke 5, and John 21) or where Jesus is with His “inner circle” of Apostles (Peter, James, and John) at key moments, such as the Transfiguration or Agony in the Garden.

The other point that struck me today was Jesus’s curious instruction to the newly commissioned Twelve in Matthew 10:5-6: “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Clearly the master plan is to invite all men and women into the New Covenant family–that is, the Church (see Mt. 28:18-20; Mk.16:16; Catechism, no. 543). Yet Jesus instructs His leaders to follow a certain progression (see also Acts 1:8). After all, the Israelites were the chosen people, God’s special possession. Through His relationship with Israel through salvation history, God would eventually fulfill His promise to Abraham to bless all nations through him (cf. Gen. 22:18).

I see a similar dynamic at work in the “new evangelization.” The master plan has not changed: We want to invite all men and women to a relationship with Christ and His Church. Yet there is a sense that we must first reach out to the “lost sheep” in our midst: cradle Catholics, uncatechized Catholics, alienated or disenfranchised Catholics, former Catholics, “cultural” Catholics, or any other sort of Catholic who for any reason needs to hear anew (or for the first time) the good news. It may begin with a smile, an act of friendship or service, or simply a heart-felt invitation to come home.

After all, it’s really not about the Twelve. Nor is it about those of us who are already active in the Church. It is about helping others come to Jesus.

To Whom Shall We Go?

9 Apr

Eucharist2Next week my youngest child, Raymond, will make his First Communion. For the first time, my entire family will be able to receive the Eucharist at Mass!

A couple weeks before my daughter Virginia made her First Communion, I took her to lunch and talked with her about the Eucharist. To test her, I said, “Now Virginia, the Eucharist symbolizes Christ, right?” Virginia looked at me partly in horror and partly in surprise at my apparent ignorance. “Oh no, Daddy,” she said. “The Eucharist really is the body and blood of Jesus.”

I affirmed her response and told her that sometimes I go out to speak to groups of people about the Eucharist. So I asked for her “advice” as to what I should tell people. Reveling in her new role as theological consultant, Virginia replied, “Daddy, I would start by telling them about Jesus: Jesus is God. He can do anything. Of course He can make Himself present under the appearance of bread and wine.”

I am so grateful to God for Virginia’s child-like faith that has now continued into her college years. I pray that she continues to deepen her relationship with Our Eucharistic Lord as she matures into adulthood.

Sadly, though, many adults don’t have Virginia’s faith. It is said that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, so I have a healthy distrust of polls that attempt to quantify Eucharistic belief. Even so, despite the welcome resurgence of Eucharistic adoration and devotions and other positive signs of life in the Church, far too many Catholics have an inadequate understanding of the Eucharist.

And how can we love what we don’t know?

When we consider the various problems and scandals in the Church, we most typically point to secondary, external causes and effects. Yet, underlying these things is the perennial mystery of evil and sin. So why does sin seem to be having such a field day right now? I think the heart of the matter is a crisis of faith. And while faith in Christ identifies us as Christians, our belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and the authority entrusted to the successors of Peter and the other apostles is what identifies us more specifically as Catholics.

When Our Lord gave His great Eucharistic discourse in John 6, many of those who were already numbered among His disciples could not accept this teaching and returned to their former, pre-Christian lives (cf. Jn. 6:60, 66). No other recorded teaching of Christ had such an effect.

There are many today who do not believe in God, let alone His Incarnate Son. Then there are Christians whose rejection of the Eucharist sadly perpetuates divisions dating back to the 16th century. And there are those who consider themselves Catholic but who hold out for a different Christ and a different Church.

After many disciples left because of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn. 6:67). And Peter’s response, the response of the Church, was, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe . . .” (Jn. 6:68).

Our Lord’s question–which goes out to each of us–demands an act of faith, an adherence to revealed truth. Indifference about the Eucharist, ambivalence about the Church, is clearly not an acceptable response. Yet the actions of many baptized Catholics manifest such indifference and ambivalence. That’s why today–and always–the Church needs heroic witnesses, indeed martyrs, to the truth about Jesus Christ, to the truth about the Church, to the truth about the Eucharist.

Chair-man of the Board!

22 Feb

Pope seatedToday the universal Church celebrates the feast of the Chair of St. Peter. When I first returned to the Church way back when, I thought this feast sounded really strange. I was okay with celebrating events from the life of Christ, and even with celebrating feasts in honor of special saints. But a chair?

Then I read that ever since the fourth century, the feast of the Chair of St. Peter has been celebrated in Rome as a sign of the unity of the Church founded upon that apostle. Hmmm. There must be more to the story . . .

One thing I learned early on is that the word for “chair” in Latin is cathedra. And so when the Pope teaches authoritatively in the area of faith and morals, he is said to speak “ex cathedra,” or “from the chair,” indicating the binding nature of the teaching on the Christian faithful.

And because cathedra literally refers to the established seat of the bishop, the “mother church” of a diocese that contains this seat is known as a “cathedral.” The chair or seat of a bishop symbolizes his authority as a successor of the apostles, and in a special way it symbolizes his “magisterium” or teaching office, in that he called to guard and proclaim the deposit of faith for the benefit of the local Church.

As Pope Benedict teaches, “When the bishop takes possession of the local Church that is entrusted to him, he, bearing the miter and the shepherd’s crosier, sits on the cathedra. From that seat he will guide, as teacher and shepherd, the journey of the faithful in faith, hope and charity.”

The first “seat” of the Church was the Upper Room where, in all probability, there was a special place reserved for Simon Peter as they awaited the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:13-15).

From there the “seat” of Peter moved to Antioch, the city where “for the first time the disciples were called Christians” (Acts 11:26), as Peter became that community’s first bishop.

From there, providence led Peter to Rome, where his service to the Gospel was crowned with martyrdom.

In this way, Rome came to be known as the “See” of the successor of Peter and the home of the Pope’s “cathedra,” which represents the mission entrusted to him by Christ to shepherd His entire flock. Incidentally, the Pope’s cathedral church as Bishop of Rome is not St. Peter’s, but St. John Lateran Basilica in Rome, identified as the “Mother and Head” of all the churches in the world.

Rome’s significance as the See of Peter is attested by the most ancient Fathers of the Church. For example, St. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (c. 200 A.D.), described the Church of Rome as “greatest and most ancient, known by all; . . . founded and constituted at Rome by the two glorious Apostles Peter and Paul . . . With this Church, because of her outstanding superiority, the universal Church must be in agreement, that is, the faithful everywhere” (Against Heresies).

In celebrating the “Chair” of Peter we recognize its spiritual significance: It is a special sign of the love of Christ who, as one form of the penitential rite at Mass provides, came to “gather the nations into the peace [and unity] of God’s kingdom.”

During this time of papal transition, let us make our own the words of St. Jerome: “I follow no leader save Christ so I consult the chair of Peter, for this I know is the rock upon which the Church is built!”