Matthew 16:18
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.
Our readings today are and apologist’s dream. What is an apologist? It is not someone who apologizes for the faith. It is someone who argues or persuades in favor of the faith. As I said, these readings are a dream for both Catholic and Protestant apologists. However, the Protestant evangelists are misreading the scriptures. This is the way their argument works, as I understand it.
In the Greek, which is the oldest manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel that we have, there is a difference between the name of Peter and the word for rock. More specifically, in some Greek studies, Peter is translated as a Little Rock, whereas the church is a big rock. Protestants use this difference as a way to say that Peter was not really being set up as the prime apostle. That is a… very short description of a Protestant position, and probably does not do it justice.
But I think the Catholic position explains this in a much better way. In Greek, as in Spanish, the word for rock is feminine. But Matthew could not write Peter with a woman’s name! So Petra (rock) became Petros (for some, that means a Little Rock). But that is still not taking into account the fact that, while Jesus probably knew Greek, he most likely spoke in Aramaic to his disciples. In Aramaic, the word that is two words in Greek, is only one word: Cephas.
And, if you look in Paul’s writing, he refers to Peter as Cephas. So, the argument that the Protestants use of pointing to the two words in Greek really is… not a good argument. I think the real issue they have is with the question of authority.
It is the quintessential problem that surfaces because of Protestantism. Martin Luther could not abide being under the authority of the Pope. And all of the reformers, I should say revolutionaries, that followed him also had problems with the authority of the Pope. And, that problem remains today.
They MUST question our position of the leadership of the Pope because they cannot accept the idea of someone being so completely “in charge”. In most cases, it all comes down to authority. And, the ideal of individualism that is so much a part of our American structure of society lends itself to this problem. People are not willing to trust that God would choose to govern his church in the way we say he chose to.
Now, let us also turn to the first reading from Isaiah. This man, Shebna, was the prime minister in Israel in his day. But he did not do what was expected of him in helping lead the nation. So the office fell to someone named Eliakim who was given the key of the house of David, and then what follows is virtually the same meaning as what was given in authority to Peter.
So, Jesus was setting up the idea of a prime minister for his church. Of course, we call him the Pope. This in Spanish is very easy to see the connection between a family way of referring to a father and the name for the Pope. Isaiah said Eliakim was to be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. So the Pope is to be, in a similar spiritual sense, a father to the church.
It does not make sense, at least in my mind, that Jesus would start the church and then abandoned her without leadership. That leadership fell to St. Peter and to the successors that we call Pope.
Peter is not some Little Rock. It is not simply some play on words that Jesus is trying to make. Yes, it is true Jesus is the foundation of the church, but he built it on the foundational teachings of the apostles and how they transmitted faithfully what he taught.
For people to mistake the Greek and think they have some reason to dismiss the Catholic understanding of the authority of the Pope is a real tragedy. The reason it is a tragedy is because it leaves them without a sure guide physically on earth. Now, people may say that is what the Holy Spirit is for. But, Jesus also said he would not abandon his church. But that is a whole other topic, and worthy of a homily by itself.
The proof of the proper authority of the Pope comes in the way in which the church has been consistently led throughout the centuries. Yes, there have been “bad popes” – men who have failed to live the life of holiness that we have all been called to, but that does not mean that the church has failed. It cannot fail! The promise of Jesus gives us confidence that the church will not fail.
As the opening line of our reading from St. Paul says today, even though I am taking it out of context, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” This is proved in his faithfulness to the church.
Really, what more needs to be said?
I do have one final thing. Saturday morning, Archbishop Lucas spoke to the priests encouraging us to begin encouraging those of you who are still not coming back to mass to add something specific to your prayers. What he suggested adding is that you begin to pray for a longing for our Eucharistic Lord. He was not suggesting that everyone come back. You need to use your own discernment about when it will be safe for you to return.
But he wanted us priests to encourage you to begin praying that you would have the kind of longing for the Eucharist that would make you anxious to return, while not violating your need for personal safety and space.
I am sure some of you who are watching this are praying this way already. But I think the point the Archbishop was making is good for us to keep in mind. We should be storming heaven with prayers for an end to this pandemic. We should have been doing this all along. But the Archbishop is suggesting we shift our attention of prayers. Begin praying for an end to this pandemic problem so that everyone can return to worshiping the Lord in the Eucharist, and receiving him in communion.