August 27, 2017
On their way to the church to get married, a couple had a fatal car accident. The couple found themselves sitting at Heaven's Gate waiting for St. Peter to do an intake. While waiting, they wondered if they could possibly get married in Heaven. St. Peter finally showed up and they asked him. St. Peter said, "I don't know, this is the first time anyone has asked. Let me go find out," and he left.
The couple sat and waited for an answer... for a couple of months... and finally St. Peter took a priest with him for the wedding ceremony. The couple joyfully received the good news but before the wedding they also had a question, they asked, “St. Peter, if we find ourselves not compatible, can we have a divorce?”
St. Peter, red-faced, slammed his clipboard onto the ground. "What's wrong?” asked the frightened couple.
“Come on!" St. Peter shouted, "It took me two months to find a priest up here! Do you have any idea how long it will take me to find a lawyer?"
Of course this story is just another joke but it also tells us the common belief that St. Peter is the paradise gate keeper. In this weekend’s Gospel we see Jesus talking about Peter’s role and the new sacred order: the Church. He begins by telling Simon his insight did not come from the natural order, but from the Father. Then he changes Simon's name to Rock, Peter, stating that upon him he will build his Church. Those words irritate people who want Jesus' Church to become a free-flowing, egalitarian institution.
Jesus not only identifies Peter as the rock foundation of his Church, he gives him extraordinary powers. The Old Testament reading tells about Eliakim who replaces a palace official named Shebna. The process involves having the “key of the house of David” placed on his shoulder. It gives him an authority next to the King. Likewise, Jesus entrusts the “keys of the kingdom” to Peter, so he can open and shut, loose and bind.
What happened to the keys? Were they buried with Peter after the Roman emperor nailed him to the cross upside down? They were not. He passed them on to his successor, in this case Linus (the second Pope), who in turn gave them to Cletus (the third Pope). Who holds the keys today? Pope Francis. Jesus means the keys to be handed on is evident from his words, “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (my church).”
Thus Jesus has established a sacred order, a hierarchy for his Church. It does not mean every utterance of the pope will be correct. Nor does it mean his every action will be holy. History unfortunately provides many examples to the contrary. But it does mean we can trust that the Holy Spirit will use the Church’s teachings, which Jesus set up, to give us sound doctrine.
This is no small guarantee. When you consider how many divergent teachings have sprung up (all of them claiming a Scriptural basis) it is quite amazing the 267 popes from Peter to Francis have held such a steady course. Small credit goes to human holiness or wisdom. Even Peter, so close to Christ, made embarrassing stumbles. For the office of Peter we can only give credit to Christ and his Holy Spirit. He wills a sacred order for his Church. Our task today is to see beyond scandals and disappointments – to be proud of being a Catholic within that order, contribute into its holiness and to invite others to join us.