keys to the kingdom

Today, February 22, is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.

I’ve been to Rome many times. When you enter St. Peter’s Basilica, you can’t miss the famous “Chair of St. Peter” hanging on the far wall. The relic appears miraculously suspended in mid-air, floating among Bernini’s golden clouds and cherubs. As with many relics, the authenticity of the chair may be questioned, but the belief in the central role of Peter and his papal descendants is on clear display.

chair of st peter

Today’s gospel reading tells the story of Jesus asking Peter, “Who do YOU say I am?”

Peter replies with, “You are the Messiah. The Son of the Living God.”

Jesus rewards Peter with what seems to be an over-the-top gift.

“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.” (see Matthew 16)

Wow! I was lucky to get a holy card from Sister Francis for giving the right answer in catechism class. The keys to heaven is some powerful reward!

Reminders of Jesus’s gifting of the keys to Peter are all over Rome. The keys are central to the papal insignia shown below. The keys, gold and silver, represent the power to loose and bind. They are part of the Vatican flag, and are included in each pope’s individual coat of arms.papal keys


In all honesty, I struggle with this gospel reading and its interpretation over the years. The power of the keys gave popes and bishops the rationale to claim ever increasing power throughout church history. Imagine having an unscrupulous leader who was granted this kind of divine right. What could possibly go wrong?

The keys have been used as tools of intimidation, bludgeoning the faithful into submission while emptying their pockets to fill church coffers. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by richly dressed, powerful men who claimed to be judge and jury over all things earthly and divine, threatening you with eternal hell-fire and brimstone?

Peter, himself, was a sinner. Sure, he had one shining  moment of inspiration. One right answer. The gospels also show him as a doubter. A denier. A cowardly man who ran from the cross with the other disciples, fearing for his life. How many times have we heard that this is what made Peter so special? Jesus didn’t choose him because he was perfect. Jesus chose him despite his sins and imperfections.

But, why would Jesus give God-like power to one man? Was absolute power his intention? Was it his intention that this absolute power would be passed down an unbroken line of popes through the centuries, claiming unarguable validity from a couple of scripture lines? Surely, Jesus knew enough about human nature to realize that this was a recipe for disaster?

Miraculously, the church has survived centuries of popes, both sinners and saints…and there were some humdinger sinners! By the 1960’s, Vatican II focused on the collegial nature of papal power. The pope rules in union with his bishops, guided also by the sensus fidei, the sense of the faithful. You and me. The church is the Body of Christ, composed of all the people of God with Jesus as its head. WE are the church.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t need leaders. We do. We need popes, bishops, priests, religious and lay people who embrace servant leadership, not autocratic, absolutist power. We need this in our church. We need it in our world.

We need true servant leaders.

From the moment he was elected, Pope Francis showed the world that he was a different kind of pope, determined to reform church leadership from the Vatican to the parish level. He never tires of preaching about humility, faith of the heart, integrity and sincerity in word and deed.

On this feast day,  I pray that Pope Francis will lead us with his service and example for many years to come.




the young take the lead

In the aftermath of the brutal massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the world witnessed a shining light of hope. The light was sparked by the young student survivors. Think about this for a moment.


These young people hid from the shooter and his guns. They huddled together in class rooms while deafening shots rang out in the hallway. They fled in fear, not knowing if they would be next. Reaching safety, reality quickly washed away relief.

Fourteen students and three staff members dead. Fourteen or more injured.

If you haven’t already, please watch this video. Please watch it in its entirety. The young woman’s name is Emma Gonzalez. She is a student survivor of the February 14th mass shooting. She is speaking at an anti-gun rally a mere three days after the tragedy. Her words deserve to be heard.

May the spark of light lit by these brave young souls spread into a blazing call for change. Never again!

struggling with sin, part two

I’m still pondering the topic of my  last blog post, struggling with sin. It was an attempt to share my own personal struggles and questions. I didn’t mean to discredit or minimize my belief in sin. My worst fear was that I would come across sounding delusional about my own sinfulness. Did she just say that she’s NOT a sinner???

After I published the post, I was reminded of a saying that I referred to often, in my far away past as a catechist.

The greatest sin of the 20th century, is the loss of the sense of sin. (St. John Paul II)

Have I lost this sense of sin? Have I rationalized my own innocence in order to avoid those horrible feelings of guilt and fear of bygone days? Am I falling into what-aboutism, the current mode of avoiding guilt? I might have done wrong, but what about all those others who are much greater sinners than I? 

The topic of sin and guilt prompted thoughtful comments, which you can read here.  Instead of responding on the comments board, I’d like to include them in this reflection.

What does it mean to say that I am a sinner? According to Gilles, it is

…before all else saying that I am striving for unity, congruence, relationship, communion (which is Love, by the way)…and that I’m not there yet.

AMEN! I really like this. It emphasizes the journey aspect of our lives. It ties in nicely, I think, with Dennis’s approach to feast days like Ash Wednesday as “symbols-in-time”, reminders of realities that that are always present. The liturgical calendar nudges us, as individuals and as a community, to stop and ponder what is already there.

Jerry mentioned a title by Thomas Merton, “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander”, reminding us of the sins of omission as well as commission. We sin by doing and NOT doing.

Marceta further expanded our view of sin. Our seemingly small actions, added together, contribute to inequities and injustices around the world,

Maybe thinking about our global impact is a way to understand our connectedness as our contribution to sinfulness in the world.

Like Joanne, I get overwhelmed with the thought that I’m not “doing enough”. This week has been especially heavy with sadness in the news. We are told that sometimes “thoughts and prayers” are not enough. We must act. But, what can we do? What can I do? How much am I can I be responsible for? It is overwhelming!

Prayer might not cure all the evils of the world, but it connects us to the divine goodness, love and peace that is God. And, God knows that we need more goodness, love and peace in our lives and in our world!

A special thank you to a new friend to the dialogue, Perpetua! Your words had me giggling. All wet noodles should be covered with Alfredo. Yum! 🙂

Thanks to all for helping write this post!

Lenten peace and blessings…


P.S. Check out Perpetua’s blog, Life Is Like That.