“And, so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven .” (Matthew 16:18-19)
Jesus is speaking clearly to Peter in the midst of the Apostles a word that is so important that the early Church remembers it in the Gospel. Peter was given the keys as a steward would be entrusted with the security of the house and possessions of a king.
Peter eventually travelled to Rome and became the Bishop (care-giver) of the local Christian community there. His successors, in turn, have taken his place as the keeper of the keys and as the visible sign of unity in the “communion of charity” that is the Church.
Peter’s successors continue through the passage of years and the changing of times: the legalization of Christianity by Constantine, the bestowal of the Papal States, the schism of the eastern Orthodox, the fraction of the Reformation, the social and political changes of our own time.
Some of the popes (fathers) have been eminently holy, others corrupt. Some have been more competent than others. But, the papacy as the visible sign of unity has continued to our day. The role of the pope is to keep the Church together in variety, but in the unity of faith and morals. Catholics don’t get out of bed in the morning, pick up a bible and start a church. We look to the WHOLE Church, to our WHOLE history and to the guidance and servanthood of the Bishop of Rome, who still holds the keys.
(It’s important to note here: Jesus did not give Peter the keys and then tell him to toss them away when he was finished with them. Keys are ENTRUSTED and are passed down from one steward to the next.)
Sunday, April 27, we will celebrate the sainting of two recent popes: John XXIII and John Paul II. Each was a strong force for change and renewal in the Church. Each also had a hand in changing the world politically.
Today Pope Francis is continuing their work by calling the Church to holiness, to prayerfulness, to care for the marginalized and to being a beacon of love in our world.
All three of these men have held the same keys that Jesus gave to Peter. These keys unlocked the doors of heaven.
And so, Catholics, the keys remain in Peter’s hands. The Church is indeed open and ready for business.