Matthew 16: 13 – 20
When I was a child I loved to have keys. It didn’t matter if they were old car keys, house keys, a trunk key, or whatever, having a set of keys made me feel grown up. I notice to this day children with keys, and sometimes a parent handing a set of keys to a fussy toddler serves as a good pacifier. Keys give a sense of importance because having keys makes one important. Something of value is kept under lock and key. The person with a key has access to a place where others do not. The person with the key is entrusted with the responsibility of caring for whatever it is that is locked up. In the Gospel today Jesus entrusts Peter with the keys to the kingdom. In this case it is more the image and the message that it conveys than actual physical keys that is important. I don’t think that the Pearly Gates are kept under lock and key. The image is that Peter is given the authority on earth, as leader of the apostles and ultimately the Church, to act in the name of the Lord. It is the keys that symbolize this, and this symbol did not end with the death of Peter, but has continued to symbolize the authority of the one who sits in the Chair of Peter as Pope. Both the Papal Seal and the Pope’s Coat of Arms contain the image of two keys representing the authority given to him by non other than Christ Himself.
The authority of Peter and his successors is rather clear in this passage. Jesus gave Peter and the Apostles all the authority to “bind and Loose”, but he speaks only to Peter when he tells him that he is entrusted with the keys. Bishops today are successors of the Apostles and they have the same authority to “bind and Loose”, but it is only the Pope who holds the keys. The Bishops function in union with, and under the authority of the Pope. This is referred to as the Hierarchy, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it thus; “The Apostles and their successors, the college of bishops, to whom Christ gave the authority to teach, sanctify, and rule in his name.” (CCC 873)
This is an awesome charge, and I am always impressed when a Bishop celebrates Mass and instead of inserting his name in the Eucharistic Prayer instead says, “for me your unworthy servant.” The authority they have is an authority that humbles and calls them to service. To teach, sanctify, and rule (sometimes translated as govern) in the name of Christ are awesome tasks. When a bishop teaches it is not in his own name, or his own opinion, it is in the name of Christ. A bishop sanctifies us through his prayers, his service and his example knowing that we are always listening and watching. A bishop governs in the name of Christ and not at his own whim.
Upon reflecting on this Gospel passage may we keep the Holy Father and our bishops in prayer. May they be given the graces and gifts they need to live out their calling in such a way as to truly reflect the mind of Christ. Our spiritual care is entrusted to them and this is a mighty weight upon them. May they walk with Christ who will help them with this mighty task and help them to be Good Shepherds. Finally, may we be blessed to be faithful members of the flock, attentive to the voice, presence and care of our Shepherds.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.