Today, one might ask, why do we celebrate the feast of a chair? Why the chair of St. Peter? As we all should know, that all dioceses in the world has Cathedrals, one in each diocese, and in the Cathedral, there is a special ‘chair’ that only the ordinary or the bishop of the diocese can sit on. This is because that chair is the Cathedra, the bishop’s throne or seat, which represents his authority, which is given from the Lord Himself.
Where does this authority come from? Right, you all should know indeed, that it came eventually, down the centuries and millenia from the early leaders of the Church, who themselves receievd that power and authority from the Apostles, whose leader is Peter, who was then known as Simon, son of Jonah, or Simon Bar-Jona, the fisherman.
Simon answered out of great courage and speak out the truth sincerely about Christ, who is indeed the Messiah and the Son of the living God, who has come to save the world, although maybe none at that time has yet to understand that He has to do this through His suffering and ultimately death on the cross. But indeed, for the great act of faith that Simon showed, Christ entrusted him with His authority and power, as His vicar on earth, simply through the words that He mentioned, that He will give Simon the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and He will build His Church, that is all the faithful in Him, united as one Body, on him as the foundation.
Hence, that is why Christ renamed Simon as Peter, whose Aramaic (the language spoken at the time of Jesus) origin was Kephas/Kepha, which means rock, that was then translated to Greek as Petros, and then to Latin as Petrus, which all means rock. The Gospel indeed has some pun to the word as Christ did say, “You are Peter and on this Rock…”, which one may interpret as the play on the word Petros/Petrus/Kepha, and there are those, who said that the rock does not refer to Peter at all.
No, this cannot be, since that Rock does refer to Peter, and why? It is because of his great faith in Christ, that is like a great rock, will become the most suitable foundation of His Church on this world, for Peter himself later on, as the leader of the Church, rooted himself firmly in Christ, even to his death in Rome.
It does not mean that Peter did not falter in his faith and dedication to the Lord. As everyone should know, that Peter was well-known for his betrayal of the Lord, even after he said during the Last Supper that he would never leave or abandon the Lord, but when Jesus was tried and mocked, and someone suspected Peter of being Christ’s accomplice, he denied Christ three times, out of fear and uncertainty, seeing that the Lord he has always believed in, has now been judged and soon to be sentenced to death.
Nevertheless, it is not Peter’s failures that we should focus on, but rather, what happens after, as he should indeed be a role model to all of us, that after whenever we fall, we must rise up again and rise up ever stronger than before, even stronger than before we fall. It was Peter who led the Apostles in the days after the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ, and it was to him that Christ asked, “Peter, do you love Me.”, also three times.
Just as we often heard indeed in the Bible that God is merciful and willing to forgive all who had erred but yet willing to fully turn themselves back towards Him again, the same thing was what Christ did to Peter. Peter knew that he had been forgiven, and he gave Christ the promise of undying and eternal love, and that he will never fail Him again as before. Christ then entrusted the care of all His sheep in this world, all those who believe in Him, in Peter, whom He then affirm as the leader of all the faithful, and His representative in this world.
It is at that point that Christ entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and built His Church, which began on Pentecost, with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. It was Peter who defended Christ and gave a fiery speech, asking the people to believe in Christ, and caused many to convert to the cause of God, and therefore, marked the very beginning of the Church.
Through Peter, we have many of his successors, who are the Bishops of Rome. Why the Bishop of Rome? This is because, in the established tradition and the letters following the events of the New Testament, Peter would travel to Rome eventually and settled there, before being martyred by the Emperor Nero of the Roman Empire sometime in 67 AD, not long after the other great Apostle Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, who is also associated together with the Bishop of Rome.
St. Peter in his great humility, when he was about to be crucified, through which he will face his martyrdom, refused to be crucified in the same way as the Lord did, and thus chose to be crucified upside down. This is what we know now as the ‘upside-down’ cross, or the cross of St. Peter.
Many had misunderstood this ‘upside-down’ as the symbol of the Antichrist, when the Pope, for example Blessed Pope John Paul II utilised it on his chair during his visit to the Holy Land, which in fact is the symbol of his own authority as the successor of St. Peter, and the symbol of Peter’s humility in being crucified upside-down that he would not die the same way as Christ, as he felt unworthy to do so. Now that all of you know about this, tell those who has yet to know about this, that they too may know and not linger in falsehood, but remain in the truth.
The chair of St. Peter can be seen at the back of the High Altar below the famous Holy Spirit stained glass on the walls of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, which was built on the spot where St. Peter was buried after his martyrdom. This chair, which is armless, and made of wood and inlaid with precious metals, contains the materials from the original chair that was known to have been used by St. Peter himself when he was in Rome. In a sense, this was St. Peter’s cathedra, and thus, the very first seat of authority that was present in this world.
Many of the Bishops of Rome who succeeded Peter had been great Popes, and many too had been saints and great saints, contributing greatly to the growth of the Church of Christ to whom they are entrusted to, through Peter. Of course there are also some Popes who had been bad Popes, and were great sinners. We condemn what they did, which in one way or another have done bad to the Church of Christ and to the faithful, due to their failure to faithfully carry out the mission that has been entrusted by Christ to them through Peter.
The Popes, who are the Bishops of Rome, are human too, as St. Peter was, and therefore was also prone to sins and errors as other mankind are, but we had indeed gone a long way since St. Peter was entrusted with the keys of kingdom of heaven. After the Council of Trent, and the succeeding councils, the Church has rediscovered itself, and led by the Pope, who is the leader of all the faithful in Christ, we continue in our mission that Christ had given us, that is to spread the Gospel, the Good News to all, and to baptise everyone in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray for our Pope, the successor of St. Peter the Apostle, that he will continue to carry out his mission entrusted to Him by Christ, and use the authority he was given to unite all the faithful in Christ. Now that our Pope, our beloved Pope Benedict XVI has decided to step down due to ill health, we pray for him that God will continue to watch over him in his retirement, and we pray for whoever his successor as the Bishop of Rome, St. Peter’s successor, will be. It is out of the same humility that our Pope has decided to step aside, because he felt that someone else can better fulfill the roles and mission entrusted to the Popes since St. Peter, just like Peter himself humbly asked to be crucified upside-down to not die the way Christ died for the salvation of the world.
St. Peter the Apostle, you to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and upon whom He built His Church, pray for us, pray for our Pope Benedict XVI, your successor, and his successors, and pray for the new Coadjutor Archbishop of Singapore, Msgr. William Goh Seng Chye, who will be ordained today, and who will receive the authority given to him through the endless succession that came from you, and from Christ, who gave you the authority over the Church and the world. Pray for us, St. Peter. Amen.