Friday, February 22, 2008
Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle
Attracted and Attractive
Readings: 1 Peter 5:1-4; Psalm 23:1-3a, 4, 5, 6; Matthew 16:13-19
Our Mass texts for today are rich in imagery that helps us to reflect more deeply on the ministry of Peter and his successors. For example, the feast itself is named the Chair of St. Peter. In the prayer over the gifts, Peter is referred to as our shepherd. In the gospel, Jesus calls Peter the rock upon which I will build my Church. In the first reading, Peter describes himself and his fellow presbyters as witnesses to the sufferings of Christ… A seat of authority and a guardian of flocks, a firm foundation for building and one who testifies in a court of law: these are among the different images that our texts for Mass present today.
And they remind me of yet another image, one from my own past. It’s an image from science class, when the teacher poured some iron filings onto a piece of paper. They all ended up in a messy heap, until a magnet was placed underneath the paper. And then, quite marvelously, the filings came together to form a pattern, which shifted with each move of the magnet. The mass of filings became a blueprint of attractive forces. Thanks to the magnet’s power, a loose pile of metal became an integrated whole, a mess was transformed into a map.
Isn’t this too, a useful image of the purpose of the Petrine ministry in the Church? As we prayed in the opening prayer, its role is to ensure that nothing divides or weakens our unity in faith and love. It shepherds straying sheep into a single fold. It firmly grounds stones of uneven shape to form a solid shelter. Its purpose is to bring together seemingly disparate pieces of metal to form an effective indicator of the power of God’s love at work in the world.
But perhaps even more important than knowing its purpose, we need also to appreciate the source of its power. How does Peter come to unite the Church? How does he serve his sisters and brothers? Is it not by first experiencing the Lord strengthening him in his weakness? I have prayed that your faith may not fail; and you in your turn must strengthen your brothers. As we heard in the opening prayer, the Church is founded not so much on Peter himself, as it is on the rock of his confession of faith, a confession not revealed byflesh and blood... but my heavenly father, the same confession he makes at Caesarea Philippi: you are the Christ, the Son of the living God. Peter is able to care for the sheep only because he first acknowledges and trusts in the Chief Shepherd. He is able to hold up the Church only because he himself remains firmly founded on the Rock of our salvation. He can attract others only because he himself is transfixed by the attractiveness of Christ the Lord.
And the experience of Peter is also meant to be an example for the rest of us. For just as the universal Church is made up of smaller local churches and domestic churches, dioceses and parishes, communities and families, so too does the ministry of Peter require the cooperation of many others, each exercising some form of leadership at the appropriate level. Even if few of us are called to be bishops and parish priests, isn’t it true that we are all invited to be shepherds as much as sheep, to support loads as much as to be supported, to attract others as much as to be attracted? And, as it is with Peter, we are each able to do this only to the extent that we remain connected to Christ. We are attractive to others only insofar as we remained attracted to the Lord.
What role are we each being invited to play in the Church today?
Posted by Fr Chris at 9:48 am