What did the Lord mean when he said to Peter, “You are rock and upon this rock I will build my Church?” With this question, Pope Benedict XVI, the successor of St. Peter, began his homily. With a large crowd gathered within the Basilica of St. Peter, the Holy Father considered the significance of his predecessor to the Church of the 21st century. “What exactly is the Lord telling Peter with these words,” the Pope asked, “What do they promise him and with what do they charge him? And what do they say to us - to the Bishop of Rome, seated here in the chair of Peter, to the Church of today?”
Pope Benedict said that to answer these questions, it is helpful to recall three different points in the Gospels in which, in three different ways, Lord gives Peter his particular assignment. Though each point concerns the same assignment, he said, from the differences in situations and the images used it is possible to determine an answer to the questions as to what the Lord desires for Peter and for the Church today.
In the Gospel of Mathew, the Holy Father said, are three particular images of great importance to us concerning Peter - the naming of Peter as the rock on which Christ would build His Church, the giving of the keys, and the declaration of Apostles’ power to bind and unbind things on earth and in heaven. Rather than discussing those images which, the Pope said, have been repeatedly covered over the centuries, the Holy Father wished to discuss the location and timing of the Lord’s words to Peter. Benedict said it is very important that the promises made to Peter take place at the mouth of the Jordan, at the border of the Jewish and pagan worlds. The importance of the moment is also of note, for it is at this time that the Lord begins his walk to Jerusalem, his walk to crucifixion. “This is the first time,” Benedict said, “that the Lord tells his disciples that the way to the Holy City is a way to the Cross, ‘From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised’.”(Mt. 16:21)
“Both things,” the Pope said, “go together and determine the inner place of the Primacy (of Peter), in fact, of the Church in general: the Lord is continually on a journey towards the Cross, towards the lowliness of the suffering and murdered servant of God, but at the same time, He is also headed for the vastness of the world, in which He goes before us as the Risen Lord, so that the light of His Word and the presence of His love may shine in the world.” In this way the Lord demonstrates that “for the Church Holy Friday and the Passover always exist together.”
Thus, Benedict continued, “the Church - and Christ within it - still suffers today. In the Church, Christ is relentlessly mocked and stricken over and again; there are always efforts to push it out of the world. The small boat of the Church is forever being buffeted by the wind of ideologies that penetrate it with their waters, seemingly condemning it to sink. And yet, in the midst of the suffering Church, Christ is victorious. Notwithstanding everything, faith in Him is renewed in strength again and again. Still today, the Lord commands the waters and reveals himself as the Lord of the elements. He stays on his boat, the ship of the Church. Thus, is also revealed, even through the ministry of Peter the weakness of that which comes from man, on the one hand, but together as well with the strength of God.”
The Holy Father then discussed the Gospel of St. Luke and the Last Supper, “at which the Lord confers a special assignment to Peter.” The Pope discussed how Peter would be faced with great challenges from Satan, but would be strengthened by Christ Himself.
Immediately after the institution of the Sacrament, the Pope said, Christ speaks of what it means to be disciples, in the “ministry”, of the new community: he says that this is to make a commitment of service as Christ Himself came among them to serve. And turning to Peter, “Jesus continues: ‘I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail’ (Lk. 22:32). The prayer of Jesus is a limit imposed on the power of evil. The prayers of Jesus are a protection for the Church. We can seek refuge under this protection, cling to it and be sure of it. But, as the Gospel tells us, Jesus prayed especially for Peter: ‘that your faith may not fail’. There it is: don’t ever allow this faith to become dumb, always reinvigorate it, even in the face of the cross and all the contradictions of the world - this is the task of Peter. This is precisely why the Lord does not only pray for the personal faith of Peter but for his faith in the service of others. This is what He means when He says: ‘and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers’ (Lk22:32).”
The pontiff then, very briefly mentioned a scene of Peter in the Gospel of John (21:15-19). Recalling the scene of the resurrection, Pope Benedict said, “The Lord rose and as the Risen Lord he entrusted his flock to Peter. Here too, the Cross and the Resurrection are intertwined. In his words to Peter, Jesus portends his journey towards the cross. In this Basilica, erected over the tomb of Peter - a pauper’s grave - we see that the Lord, thus, through the Cross, always triumphs. His power is not a power according to the rules of this world. It is a power of goodness, of truth and love, which is stronger than death. Yes, his promise is true: the power of death, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church He built for Peter (cfr Mt 16:18), and that He, precisely in this way, continues to edify in person.”
.- The Pope celebrated Mass today for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a feast on which Catholics traditionally remember the Petrine ministry of the Pope. The Holy Father discussed during his Homily, Peter’s service to the Church in relation to the suffering and death of Christ.