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Homilies | Thursday, February 22, 2024

Peter's faith is our faith

Archbishop Wenski's homily at St. John Vianney Seminary on the feast of the Chair of Peter 2024

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily while celebrating Mass at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami on the feast of the Chair of Peter, Feb. 22, 2024.

We just started Lent, but today we exchange the purple or violet vestments of penance to the white ones in order to celebrate the Chair of Peter.

Now, this feast is not the Celebration of an Object of Furniture. It is, rather, the use of the word chair in a way that suggests leadership. A school board, corporation, and a non-profit, for example, all have a board chair. In the Senate there are chairs of select committees. Even the word cathedral is derived from “cathedra” – a word that means “seat” or “chair.” A cathedral is a cathedral because that is where the seat or chair of the bishop is. To speak “ex cathedra’ doesn’t mean to speak from the cathedral, but to speak from the chair, to speak with authority.

And so, what we celebrate today is the symbol of Peter’s authority, passed down to all popes. But authority as we heard in the first reading is not something one should “lord” over another. In the Church, there are no dictators. Rather those who have authority in the Church are not to be authoritarians but servants. This is why, in referring to the Petrine ministry, the pope – who sits in the chair of Peter – is the servant of the servants of God. Jesus taught by example: he washed the feet of his disciples.

The unity, then, that should exist among those who invoke the name of Jesus – that unity for which Jesus himself prayed – is realized cum Petro and sub Petro: with Peter and under Peter. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity, there can be unity in diversity. As Christians we don’t have to sing in unison; but we should sing in harmony.

As the visible head of the Catholic Church throughout the world, the pope is – in a very real way – the pastor of the world, for again cum Petro and sub Petro, with Peter and under Peter, we are one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

In today’s Gospel, to the question Jesus asked, who do you say that I am? Peter answered for himself and for the apostles: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s declaration was the first Creed: the Nicene Creed which we recite on Sundays, the Apostles’ Creed with which we begin the rosary, are just elaborations of Peter’s faith. And we can call ourselves Catholics because Peter’s faith is our faith.

Peter certainly wasn’t perfect – he has faults, failings, limitations as we all do. And those who have sat in the Chair of Peter holding the responsibly of the “power of the keys” also have had their faults, failings, and limitations. For this reason, at every Mass we pray for the pope and for the bishop, unworthy servants though we be.

May all of us who share Simon Peter’s weakness of character also share in his faith so that one day we may share in his reward.

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