Feast of the Chair of Peter
When studying Canon Law, one of the guiding principles in examining a set of circumstances or an experience in the life of a person consisted in the presumption that the exterior matches the interior. In other words, what a person says or does or what a person does not say or do reflects the movements of the mind and heart. What one holds in the heart finds its way into the manner that he or she deals with others in life. I find this principle to be a solid foundation to stand upon in dealing with life experiences.
Our Feast Day today and our readings invite us to ponder the Chair of Peter precisely from this foundation. “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” So proclaims Peter in his response to Jesus. For sure, this was a response from the heart. Peter’s heart had been enveloped by the Heavenly Father who revealed to Peter the truth about Jesus. This was a profound moment in Peter’s faith development. After this moment, he could not go back. He could not pick and choose possible understandings concerning Jesus’ identity. From this moment forward, Peter knew with a solid, heartfelt conviction that Jesus was the Messiah. He would spend the rest of his life discovering what this confession of faith meant for the manner in which he lived his life. There would be ups and downs, sins and contrition, forgiveness and consolation, support and commissioning for the sake of the Gospel.
Everything would stand upon this foundational confession of faith as Peter learned to live life with others in a manner that matched his internal conviction that Jesus is the Son of the living God.
Our Gospel tells us what God did for Peter in his faith life. Our Feast and our first reading reveal to us what Peter did for us and for the Church. In his letter, Peter gives us a glimpse of how he has lived out this confession of faith. He speaks as a witness to the sufferings, death and Resurrection of Jesus. He has made the mind and heart of Jesus his own. Peter allowed Jesus to conform his mind and heart to that of the Messiah. As a result, Peter, as chief shepherd, is able to encourage his fellow presbyters and all who would come after him to watch over God’s People with the love and tenderness of Christ himself. In this moment, Peter is passing on to succeeding generations the essence of faith life. We would make a mistake to believe this apostolic tradition which Peter passes on to us is simply a listing of doctrinal statements. To be sure, doctrinal statements of our faith are important and part of the apostolic tradition symbolized in the Feast of the Chair of Peter. However, Peter was interested in passing on far more than statements. In his letter, Peter clearly intends to pass on a way of living our faith. We are invited to hold the sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus in our hearts as Peter did. We are invited to make that internal faith reality the foundation for the manner in which we deal with one another in everyday life so that what we say and do in our relationships with one another match our heartfelt conviction that Jesus “…is the Christ, the Son of the Living God” and we are His witnesses today.
Today’s feast highlights Peter as the first shepherd of God’s People following the Ascension and Pentecost. Peter understood that the keys of the Kingdom he received were given to open up life in the Risen Lord to everyone. He realized that the greatest witness to faith in the Messiah is a life lived according to the mind and heart of Jesus within our faith community. This is the witness to the world celebrated in the Feast of the Chair of Peter.
Fr. Richard Burke, CP, is a member of St. Paul of the Cross Province. He lives at St. Ann’s Monastery in Scranton, Pennsylvania.