SFX Bulletin, 24 August 2014: The number of groups calling themselves “churches” today can range from the tens to the tens of thousands depending on whether they are counted under mainstream Protestant groups or counted as standalones. For the aspiring Christian, this can be so confusing.
We can therefore be so thankful that today’s gospel reveals how Jesus intended his church to be governed and to function.
The Greek “ekklesia” translated as “church” appears for the first time in Scripture in today’s gospel. Meaning “called out”, Jesus uses the word for the new community of believers he would establish under Peter. After Peter’s divinely-inspired confession of Jesus as “…Christ…the Son of the living God” (v.16), Jesus said to him, “…You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church…”. Jesus then elaborates on the power and the authority of his Petrine-led church, “…And the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven” (v.18-19).
Elaborating on the choice of Peter, the meaning of “keys” and what ‘binding and loosening” is, the Catechism says, “Jesus entrusted a specific authority to Peter: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." The "power of the keys" designates authority to govern the house of God, which is the Church. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, confirmed this mandate after his Resurrection: "Feed my sheep." The power to "bind and loose" connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church. Jesus entrusted this authority to the Church through the ministry of the apostles and in particular through the ministry of Peter, the only one to whom he specifically entrusted the keys of the kingdom (CCC 553, cf. John 20:23).
To emphasise Peter’s divine mandate, Jesus quotes from Isaiah’s prophetic election of Eliakim (2nd reading), “I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, no one shall close, should he close, no one shall open. I drive him like a peg into a firm place; he will become a throne of glory for his father’s house” (v.22-24). The Catholic Church is thus the “visible reality” of Jesus “driving” or directing his saving graces, “The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: "the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (cf. Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops” (CCC 770, 869).
The “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” satisfies those seeking “the mind of the Lord” (Rom. 11:34). Here is where one grows in knowledge and contemplation of God. Here we find, as St. Paul found in ecstasy and joy, “How rich are the depths of God…how impossible to penetrate his motives… All that exists comes from him; all is by him and for him” (Rom.11:33-36).
The Catholic Church sings St. Paul’s ecstasy in the Eucharistic Doxology, “Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, almighty Father, for ever and ever”. As we contemplate and affirm our belief that man’s union with God is fulfilled in the Eucharist, “the source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11), may we not only desire this source of divine love for ourselves but live out this love to its summit through vicarious self-giving service to others – especially to those seeking God. For it is in the power of the Eucharist to “call out” everyone to God through Christ and his Catholic Church that we say The Great Amen.