On This Rock

360px-Entrega_de_las_llaves_a_San_Pedro_(Perugino)One of the key doctrines that separates Catholicism from all other Christian expressions is the firm belief that Jesus established his Church on the rock that is St. Peter. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19 NRSV). One of the things I didn’t realize until I began my journey to Catholicism is that in the Greek all the uses of “you” underlined above are in the second person singular. Jesus was speaking specifically to Peter.

On another occasion Jesus also gives all the apostles the power to bind and loose, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23 NRSV). In both cases it is obvious that Jesus is investing apostolic authority to these men and as Catholics we understand that because of apostolic succession, through the bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, and through him all bishops, and through them all priests who represent them, minister the sacraments of the Church.

One of the beautiful passages that show the primacy of Peter reveals words that Jesus spoke to him before his arrest on Holy Thursday. “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” And he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:31-34 NRSV). It will be Peter’s mission to strengthen his fellow apostles after the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

And while we know Peter certainly denied his Lord three times, by all standards disqualifying him from the important role of leadership, we see our Lord draw Peter to himself in a very significant and tender moment. In John 21:15-19 NRSV, we read of an important encounter between the two of them after Jesus’s resurrection.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Jesus reiterates the commission he gave Peter in Matthew 16. He says to him, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep.” It is Peter a few days later in the book of Acts who takes charge and leads the search and installation of the successor of Judas. And then on the day of Pentecost, it is Peter who stands and preaches the first sermon that brought 3000 converts to the Church.

Pope Francis is now the 266th Bishop of Rome and 265th successor of St. Peter. No pope is perfect, not Peter, not Francis, not anyone of these men. Many times we are concerned with what a pope says or does. There have been many concerns expressed about our current holy Father. We must pray and pray always that Christ will guide his Church by the Holy Spirit operating through the Vicar of His Church.

St. Peter pray for us! Pope St. John Paul II pray for us!

A Sense of Belonging

Over the next several Mondays I want to focus on some topics that were key in my journey into the Roman Catholic Church. A week ago today Charlotte and I were interviewed by Marcus Grodi for the “Journey Home” program that will air on EWTN, Monday, September 10, at 8:00 p.m. “A Sense of Belonging” was one of the things I talked about.

Early on in my journey, in December 2013, I picked up the book How to Go from Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps by Christian Smith. I read it once, read it again to Charlotte, and then read it for a third time. I began to interact with his statements. The first statement was “Begin to feel rootless.” This I recognized as having to do with a sense of belonging. What I will share here is my journal entry on December 10, 2013 as I wrestled with that sense of belonging and something I will develop more deeply on the “Journey Home.”

To begin with, on a general level, I have always sensed rootlessness. I am a “third culture kid” (TCK), having been taken by my parents from our Midwest (Indiana) culture to the jungles of Suriname, South America at the age of six. I spent the next five years there before coming back to Indiana just before my twelfth birthday (in 1968!). I never felt that I belonged and didn’t understand why, until many years later after I had settled in New York City. I thought it strange that in 1987, at the age of 30, as I traveled to Costa Rica for language school I felt in a sense I was “going home.” Yet I never felt completely at home in the Latin culture, only more comfortable. While in college I took interest in my family history due in part to a feeling of rootlessness. I longed to know where I came from; where my family came from and what was their story. 

I love history, especially church history and it was in my church history course at Asbury Theological Seminary that I first learned about Apostolic Succession. My professor, a United Methodist expressed some pride that he could claim “apostolic succession.” I wasn’t really sure what that meant or even if it was all that important, yet I wondered if I could claim the same. I pretty much figured out that I couldn’t. So, yes, even ecclesiastically, I have felt rootless. 

This has increased even more as I no longer serve in a denominational setting, but as part of a non-denominational church that is a hybrid of many Protestant evangelical traditions. While I appreciate the openness to and practice of liturgy, it seems we constantly need to identify ourselves and find roots in the shallow sands of non-denominational Protestant evangelicalism. I have felt this acutely as we wrestle through issues such as homosexuality, women in ministry, membership requirements and even our preaching topics and schedules.

One of the great gifts that coming into the Catholic Church has given me is a sense of belonging–a deep sense of history–being part of the Church that Jesus founded upon his Apostles. Blessed John Cardinal Newman is often quoted, but it is very true: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” A sense of history and belonging was a key component my conversion to the Catholic Church.