The Purpose of Peter's Privilege
by Rev. Paul Scalia
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written by Luke to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
For the past month the world has focused on the papacy perhaps more than ever before. Unfortunately, most of the commentary and reporting has tried to made sense of the papacy through the lens of worldly thinking - as a mere political or power position. Of course, for a proper understanding of the office we should listen not to the world, but to Our Lord. Consider Our Lord's words to St. Peter at the Last supper: "Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail, and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers' (Lk 22:31-32). We have here a nice shorthand description of the papacy and its purpose.
First, Our Lord addresses Peter personally, using his given name: "Simon, Simon... ." But He speaks about a threat to all of the apostles collectively ("all of you"). The fact that Jesus speaks these words to Peter individually indicates a special responsibility that Peter has for all the apostles, all disciples - the entire church. Peter must be personally attentive to the threat coming against them all.
Second, Our Lord makes clear the urgency of the situation: "Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat." It is a terrifying image, speaking of the evil one's power (to treat us as casually as one treats wheat) and of the disunity and division he desires. To sift means to separate and divide, even to scatter. The devil seeks to do this to the apostles - to scatter them, each one from the other. And he accomplishes this in the Garden of Gethsemane: "They all left him and fled" (Mk 14:50).
After this dire prophecy, Jesus then gives Peter a promise and a commission. First, the promise: "I have prayed that your own faith may not fail." We know that Peter's love failed, that he denied Jesus three times. But his faith enjoyed the promised protection of Our Lord's prayers - for which reason he was able to repent and ask forgiveness. Again, Our Lord singles out Peter for this privilege. But because every gift also brings a task, Our Lord immediately gives the commission: Once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers." Peter's privileged faith is not for his own benefit but to be placed at the service of the apostles, indeed of the entire church.
This, then, is the lens through which we should view the office of the pope. First, we take stock of the threats around us. The church faces tremendous trials - martyrdom in Africa and Asia, political pressure in the United States, secularization throughout the world. Satan has indeed demanded to sift all of us like wheat. He wants to bring disunity and disintegration to the body of believers and likewise to sift us individually, introducing division and dissolution into each of us.
The papacy is established for just such times - because faith must endure and the brethren must be strengthened. The pope is granted tremendous privilege and authority in the church. He is the visible sign of unity, the head of the church on earth. But his privileges are at the service of his brothers, all of the faithful. So let the world spin its wheels trying to get the real angle on supposed power politics. We will pray for the fulfillment of Our Lord's words: that our Holy Father's faith not fail, and that he strengthen the brethren.
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