Peter and the Keys

Editor’s Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A) – Isaiah 22:15, 19-23; Psalms 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

St. Peter the Apostle by Paul Reubens

“More Catholic than the Pope.”  There is nothing more quintessentially Catholic than the Papacy.  When we think “Catholic,” we think Rome, the Vatican, the dome of St. Peters.

But the roots of the papacy actually go back to Jerusalem and the messiah-kings who ruled there.

Like most heads of state, David and his descendants, the anointed kings of Judah, realized that they could not govern alone.  The most important officer assisting the king was something akin to a prime minister.  He was called “the Master of the Palace.”  In Isaiah 22, this Sunday’s first reading, we see God tell an unworthy Master of the Palace, Shebna, that he will be replaced by Eliakim, who will do things right.  Here’s what we learn from this passage – the Master of the Palace wears special robes of honor indicating his special authority.  He is to be a “father” to everyone in the Kingdom.  The symbol of his authority is a key, for he has the power to open doors for people and to close doors as well. Particularly, he controls access to the king himself.  He is someone who you can hang a lot of weight upon, like a peg in a sure spot.

When Jesus began his public ministry, he did not just come right out and proclaim that he was the long-awaited messiah.  At Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13-20), he asked his disciples what the crowd was saying about him.  They quickly volunteered various opinions they’d heard.  But then the Lord asks a more pointed question.  “Who do you say that I am?”  Perhaps an awkward moment of silence followed.  Then one of them blurts out: “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God!”  Notice I did not say that it was Peter who proclaimed this.  For he was not yet called Peter.  And that’s the point.  Nowhere else in the Gospels does Jesus change anyone’s name.  In the Old Testament, when God changes someone’s name, it indicates that this person is to play a unique role in salvation history – Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, and so on.  Plus, the new God-given name itself provides a clue to the special role the person will play.  Abraham means father of many nations, for example.

Peter means, of course, rock.  Remember Eliakim, the reliable peg that could bear much weight?  A rock is something stable you can stand on, even build on.  And the key Jesus is talking about?  Jesus is making plain that as founder of the new Israel, he is choosing his prime minister.  In fact he notes that it is His Father who made the selection.  For it is by virtue of divine revelation that the fisherman knows what no man on his own could know–that Jesus is the Christ, the anointed one of God.

One of the most difficult things to swallow about Catholic teaching is the dogma of papal infallibility.  But this passage provides the foundation of this doctrine.  Peter and his successors are given a charism of truth whereby, when push comes to shove, they are empowered by the Holy Spirit to identify the truth about Jesus.  Otherwise, the truth would be up for grabs.  If that were the case, the jaws of death would in fact prevail over the Church.  Jesus, in making Simon “Peter,” made sure they wouldn’t.  And despite 2000 years of persecution from without and enemies from within, they haven’t.

So why is Rome the center of the Catholic Church?  Because Peter died there.  Why the name change after the conclave?  Because Peter got one at Caesarea Philippi.  And why the fancy robes and the title “Holy Father?”  Because Eliakim wore robes of honor and was a “father” to the people.

So yes, the Papacy is quintessentially Catholic, but that’s because it is thoroughly biblical.


Acknowledgement

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources or info on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor as a reflection on the Mass readings 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A). It is reproduced here by permission of the author.

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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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