Standing on the Rock Week 4: the Church is Catholic. A firm Rock and a continuing Mission.
We continue our August series by exploring the third mark of the Church – the Church is Catholic. The word “catholic” means “universal,” and throughout 2000 years of Christian history, and in every continent and country in the world, in almost every language and culture, the Catholic Church has a visible presence, even if very small in some places. We hear in today’s Gospel passage the story of Peter’s profession of faith (Matthew 16:13-20), and perhaps the most memorable words in Jesus’ response to Peter are “rock” and “keys.” “Rock” refers to the unshakable foundation Jesus has given to his Church, including a visible structure: the pope, the successor of Peter; and the bishops throughout the world in union with the pope. “Keys” refer to the divinely guaranteed guidance and authority that the Church will steadily provide about what we should believe and how we should live – that is, on faith and morals. As St. Augustine said: Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia – “Where Peter is, there the Church is.” This is why we call the pope Christ’s “Vicar” on earth, the visible head of the Church. Throughout history, some popes have been corrupt, weak, and sinful, but Jesus kept his promise. Those bad popes never dismantled the pure teaching of the Gospel, nor did they interrupt the flow of grace that the Holy Spirit continues to send through the Sacraments.
There is also a third memorable image in today’s Gospel. After talking about the rock and the keys, Jesus says that “the gates of the netherworld” will not prevail against his Church (Matthew 16:18). The rock and the keys tell us how the Church is structured, but this phrase tells us what the Church does: it overthrows the kingdom of the devil, breaking down the gates of evil that closed upon the world after original sin. The Church is no passive organization, no religious or social club; it has a mission. Being Catholic means being part of a spiritual army called and equipped by God to fight and conquer sin and evil, and bringing the Good News of the Risen Christ to all the corners of the world. Here at the Church of St. John, our mission – to Love God, Love People, and Make Disciples – continues this spiritual “battle” in our local community, in this little part of God’s great vineyard (adapted from www.epriest.com). Questions for reflection and Small Groups:
When we think of the word Catholic, what do we think of?
Do church scandals affect our sense of belonging in the Catholic Church, or our relationship to God?
How do we feel about Jesus giving the “keys” of God’s authority to Peter, and in turn, his successors? Do we accept the teaching and the authority of the Pope and bishops, in matters of faith and morals, in our daily lives?
Do we feel like we have a role to play in the Church’s mission to overcome the devil?
What spiritual battles are we fighting right now in our lives?