Saturday, August 23, 2014

Peter and the papacy: a call to sacrificial service

Our readings today, especially our readings from the Old Testament and from St Matthew's Gospel, give us insight into the nature of the papacy, as originally established by Jesus Christ.

Peter is to be a servant of the master like Eliakim, not like Shebna. As such, he is to be a father to the household of faith. As John Martens points out in his excellent reflection on these readings, "Rock-Solid Authority," "We know a fair bit about this time, as the history concerning these figures appears in Isaiah 36-39 and 1 Kgs 18-20."

The papacy is a service, a ministry, and not a power trip. Of all the titles that belong to the Bishop of Rome, which includes titles such as Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Sovereign Of Vatican City State, my favorite is Servant of the servants of God.

"The Calling of St Matthew, by Caravaggio, 1599-1600

In his first lengthy interview last year, conducted by his fellow Jesuit, Fr Antonio Spadaro, and published in America magazine as "A Big Heart Open to God," Pope Francis spoke about his experience of becoming Pope. He told of coming to Rome as a Cardinal prior to being selected to walk in the shoes of the Galilean fisherman and spending time in the Basilica of St. Mary Major contemplating Caravaggio's painting "The Calling of St Matthew":
“That finger of Jesus, pointing at Matthew. That’s me. I feel like him. Like Matthew.” Here the pope becomes determined, as if he had finally found the image he was looking for: “It is the gesture of Matthew that strikes me: he holds on to his money as if to say, ‘No, not me! No, this money is mine.’ Here, this is me, a sinner on whom the Lord has turned his gaze. And this is what I said when they asked me if I would accept my election as pontiff.” Then the pope whispers in Latin: “I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance"
Let's not forget the powerful witness of Pope Benedict XVI, who, recognizing he could no longer fulfill the duties of the papacy, humbly renounced it and now lives a life of solitude and prayer.

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