Caesarea Philippi was built like a fortress on a rocky cliff; it seemed a city secure from all invaders. It is here that Jesus chooses to openly reveal himself and his plan for a secure City of God – the Church – to his disciples. He poses a question, and Simon Peter (who is already a “mouthpiece” of sorts) states clearly: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”
Jesus recognizes the blessing in his answer, because it could not come from Peter’s own deductions, but only from the Father Himself. And right there, as Peter – in all his weakness and stubbornness and rashness, but also in his sincerity and generosity – proclaims Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus proclaims Peter the Rock on which the Church will be built. This Church is to be the community of believers, the preserver and sharer of the Gospel, the Bride of Christ. It is to endure until the end of time, and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It is to Peter and this band of fishermen (and a tax collector), with all their foibles and confusions, that Jesus entrusts this important work and the whole people of God.
To safeguard the Truth and give believers confidence in the magisterial/teaching word of the bishops of the Church (in spite of the many weaknesses of those leaders), Jesus gives Peter, the first pope, the “keys to the kingdom,” with the power to bind and loose in the name of heaven. We hear about the “key of the House of David” in today’s reading from Isaiah: “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.” The authority to “bind” refers to the one in ancient Israel who was master of the palace. The authority to “loose” refers to the authority of the leader of the synagogue to expel or reinstate people from the community to preserve its religious and moral integrity. These are the powers Jesus gives to his Church; Jesus does not say this to all the disciples, but only to Peter, because there must be a single voice, not a multiplicity of voices. The one Voice of authority in the Church is found particularly in the person of the pope, who is to be the servant of all.
What a consolation this is! Throughout the centuries, while many theological battles have raged, even while men with questionable moral lives were elected pope, even while the Cardinals argued over the validity of elections and there seemed to be more than one pope (!), no pope has ever spoken un-Truth ex cathedra. The dogmatic statements of the Church have stood firm, never contradicted by a later pope. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would remain with the Church, so that we can be confident in all the Church officially teaches and allow it – and the Scriptural Word of God – to guide our lives.
Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including newly ordained Father Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.