Sunday, February 21, 2016

Till we've seen this journey through

Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of the chair of Saint Peter.  The authority of the Pope seems to be a stumbling block for many.  They question why we believe that there is one man with the ability to lead us, to guide us, and to have the authoritative ability to decide when the rest of the church may come to a stalemate.  Protestant scholars for decades have attempted to undermine this gospel reading.  They try to say that Jesus was either speaking to everyone there, thus giving the keys to every Christian; or they attempt to say that the office of the first Pope was his and his alone, thus dying when he died.  I'm not sure why we go to such lengths to try and interpret this scripture differently than those who would have been there to hear it.

To any first century Jew they would have heard this:

"And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Which would have immediately have reminded them of this: 

I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your girdle on him, and will commit your authority to his hand; and he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.

That quote from Isaiah puts it directly into perspective.  The author was writing about the installation of the prime minister of the Kingdom of David.  That is, a man who was being given authority over the kingdom only below David himself.   Anything Eliakim thus would have said would have been law, just as if David himself had said it.  It would have called them back to Pharaoh and Joseph, when Pharaoh declared "You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you."  That's what it means to be second in the Kingdom, to have the authority to declare and decide in the absence of the King until his return.   We see when Jesus tells them that the Pharisees sit on the chair of Moses that the Jewish people already have the concept that authority is passed down from one 'chair holder' to the next.  Why do we humans have such a problem with structures of authority?   Why do we seek to try to be in God's kingdom without following those God has put above us?  We want God on our terms, but by the very nature of who God is, we can only receive him on his terms. 

The thing is though that people see the title Priest, Bishop, Cardinal, Pope, and even Deacon to be titles of honor.   They demand to be able to receive those titles too!  I want it!  Everyone should be able to be a priest right?  Women?  Men?  Sinner or saint?  They look for the honor and the authority.  What the average person misses is that those titles... those titles are not titles of honor, but titles of service.  It's not something a man is to choose for himself, it's a calling! That's why the Pope is often called the first among equals.  "Do not lord it over those assigned to, but be examples to the flock."  To take on Holy Orders is to become less, to become a servant, to take on the responsibility of helping everyone else get to heaven.  

As a father my primary vocation is my marriage.  I am responsible for living my life in a way that points to Christ.  For loving my wife into heaven.  Raising my children up in a way that gives a reason for the hope that I proclaim in my words and actions. 

As a man discerning the call to the diaconate, I find that both exciting and intimidating.  As a father my primary vocation is my marriage.  I am responsible for living my life in a way that points to Christ.  For loving my wife into heaven.  Raising my children up in a way that gives a reason for the hope that I proclaim in my words and actions.  That's enough of a challenge and a responsibility on it's own, isn't it?  Yet, I feel called to a deeper level of service.  I feel called to serve the widow, the orphan, the stranger.  Called to be configured to Christ the Servant in such a way that I become responsible for every person in our Parish.  To see that their needs are met as far as I am able.  To run into the world with tears flowing, to seek the feet of Jesus and to wash them and dry them with whatever means possible.  Driven to seek his face in the unhappy, the broken, the sad, and the downtrodden.  A man compelled to offer himself up as a living sacrifice for all, while still leading his family as the spiritual head of the household, and loving his wife as Christ loved the Church. 

That is an honorable calling, I agree.  Is it a title that will give me glory in this world?  Riches?  Wealth?  Those things which people seem to think are the models of success?  No.  I will spend seven years in formation just to begin this journey.  At that point, God willing, I will become a Deacon.  Then I will spend many more years studying, growing, and serving.  I will not receive a paycheck.   I will serve however I am asked, if my humility is intact, and then I will hopefully die one day noticed only by the King himself.  I only want to die a man who can honestly say when you were thirsty, I gave you drink.  When you were hungry, I fed you.  When you were naked, I clothed you.   I gave you not just my cloak, but my tunic too.  I loved you Jesus, with all that I am, with all that I could be.  I loved you... and I loved your body.  I loved the Church and it's members as much as my mortally inadequate body was able.  Then when I see the Chief Shepherd is revealed, I pray that I might have the honor of sharing that unfading crown of glory with each and every one of you.  

We are called to be Saints, we are called to be Holy.  Set apart.  The Apostles handed on their authority in the way they saw fit.   The Chair of Peter continued from man to man, until it rests today on the humble yet Charismatic man we know as Pope Francis.  I do not envy him the amount of humility, patience, and temperance needed to be the ultimate of Servant Leaders.  So let us today recognize that special authority that Jesus put on the shoulders of the leader of the Catholic church, while at the same time realize that we too are called to be servants.  Christianity is not about what we get out of it, but what we put into it.  It's about growing closer to Jesus Christ through a living, organic relationship with his Church.  Are you with me?  Are you ready to give up those things standing in the way?  Peter and his successors have loosened the gates of Mercy.   Our Pope has declared a jubilee year of mercy to pour out God's graces to the entire world.  That begins with each and every one of us, but it can't stop within us.. it has to pour out through us to others via our words and deeds.  So today let us pray that prayer attributed to the name sake of our current Pope:

Our Pope has declared a jubilee year of mercy to pour out God's graces to the entire world.  That begins with each and every one of us, but it can't stop within us.. it has to pour out through us to others via our words and deeds.


Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love.   Where there is injury, pardon.  Where there is darkness, light.  Where there is doubt, faith.  Where there is despair, hope.  Oh divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much to be consoled as to console.  To be understood as to understand.  To be loved as to love.  For it is in giving that we receive.  In pardoning that we are pardoned.  And in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

His servant and yours, 
Brian 

"He must increase, I must decrease."