Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. Some might look at that and say, “Boy, you Catholics are really strange! Imagine celebrating a piece of furniture!” That’s not what the feast day is about. Today we celebrate the office of the Papacy. Peter was the first Pope, the Vicar of Christ.
Our first reading today is from 1 Peter 5. Here St. Peter, as the leader of the Church, is giving advice to his fellow priests. “Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly.” Interesting that St. Peter would use that language, as it is similar to the language Jesus used for him in John 21…”Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” Peter, as the chief shepherd, is following the command of Jesus given him in Luke 22: “strengthen your brothers.”
In the Gospel reading from Matthew 16, Jesus says that He will give to Peter “the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.” He then gives him the authority to bind and loose, or teach authoritatively. We see the “keys to the kingdom” being given to the master of the palace in Isaiah 22. Here Jesus establishes the office of the pope, an office that was filled by Peter and an unbroken line of successors ever since.
Father, we thank you for giving the Church on earth a shepherd to guide her. We pray for Benedict XVI, and for all who will fill his office, that they may be good shepherds in the image of the Good Shepherd. Amen.