Memorial of the Chair of Peter
There is a story of a man who could find very little meaning in life. He was something of a drifter who moved from town to town. One day he stumbled into a small village at the base of a very high mountain. Completely confused, he looked at the winding pathway up the mountain and saw a long line of people stretching from the top of the mountain almost to the bottom. Upon inquiry, he discovered they were all going to the top of the mountain where a very Holy Man lived in an ancient monastery. They were looking to the Holy Man to gain the wisdom to a wholesome and holy life. The drifter decided he needed this wisdom and got in line. Others, before and after him, had brought food and water for the days long journey up the mountain. They readily shared with him until all ran out. By then they had bonded, so the drifter volunteered to go back to the town for supplies as long as the others saved his place in line. This routine repeated itself several more times as they neared the top of the mountain. The drifter had grown muscular and lean with his trips up and down the mountain carrying supplies. More importantly, he found that he was more concerned about the men and women around him than he was for himself. It was at this juncture that it came his turn to see the Holy Man. He approached the door, knocked twice and waited anxiously. An old man with frazzled hair and beard in a rough woolen garment answered the door and asked what he wanted. He said he was here to see the Holy Man. The old man said, “Come with me.” The drifter followed the old man down several long corridors and finally stood before a large door. The old man led him out, said goodbye and was about to shut the door when the drifter said he needed to see Holy Man to obtain the wisdom of a wholesome and happy life. The old man replied, “I am the Holy Man. You have seen the Holy Man. Everything you need to know about a wholesome, happy life you learned as you made your way up the mountain. Go and be happy.”
The moral of the story is sometimes you stumble into the very person and set of circumstances that you need and you don’t even know it until one day, in a moment of clarity, it all makes sense. This is what today’s feast is all about for Peter. As a disciple, Peter has followed Jesus about day in and day out. He has heard Jesus teach and preach the Kingdom. He has seen Jesus make the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers made clean, and even the dead return to life. All the while, these were individual, isolated wonders to Peter’s mind. Then one day – the very day of this gospel passage – all of this came together and made complete and absolute sense allowing Peter to exclaim, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Life would never be the same for Peter after this moment. To be sure, there would be hardships; there would be ups and downs; there would be sin and forgiveness; there would be everything that constitutes a fully human life for Peter. Life, however, would always be, from this moment on, wholesome and happy. He had made the journey up the mountain and had seen the Holy Man – the Messiah – and life would be forever changed.
The change came in the commission Jesus gave Peter as the rock upon which He would build His church. Peter had learned shepherding as he made his way around with the Lord Jesus. He had learned the secret to the wholesomeness and the happiness of life. Now Jesus commissions Peter to bring that learning to others, to believers, to all of God’s People. This is precisely what Peter is doing in our first reading today.
Perhaps today is our day for an enlightening moment. Perhaps Peter is saying to us, “Have a seat!!! Sit for a while in my chair. Through my eyes, see Jesus as our Messiah. Through my eyes and ears, see and hear in the life of Jesus the fulfillment of the Messianic prophesies. Through my eyes, see the expanse of Church history proclaiming Jesus as Messiah and bringing wholesomeness and happiness to all seeking the wisdom of life from one who has been there. From the Chair of Peter, we discover the fundamentals of our belief and our apostolic responsibility to make that faith known through the wholesomeness and happiness of our own lives.
Fr. Richard Burke, CP, is a member of St. Paul of the Cross Province. He lives at St. Ann’s Monastery in Scranton, Pennsylvania.