Monday, 22 February 2021 : Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, celebrating with the entire Universal Church the Primacy and Authority of St. Peter as the Vicar of Christ and the representative of the Head of the Church, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we focus our attention on the centrality of the role of St. Peter and his successors, the Popes, in the governance and leadership of the entire Church.

We may find it weird that we are celebrating the feast on a ‘Chair’ but the meaning and significance of the ‘Chair of St. Peter’ are in fact very great if we understand fully the importance of chair in the matter of governance and leadership, especially in the context of the early Christians. Chair is often the symbol and visible sign and proof of authority, the seat of the leader and the physical proof of the authority the leader held over the group he was in charge of.

For example, Pontius Pilate, as the Roman Procurator or Governor of Judea has his judgment seat, called the Gabbatha, when he was about to proclaim judgment on the case of the Lord during His Passion. It was from that seat that Pontius Pilate, representing the Roman Emperor, proclaimed his judgment that the Lord Jesus was to be condemned to death and be crucified.

The High Priests of old and other leaders also had their seats of authority, and for the kings and lords, these are called thrones, and even up to this day, thrones are symbol of the monarchical, royal and governmental power. Similarly therefore, for the bishops of the Church, their authority and power, entrusted to them by the Lord, are represented by their ‘seat of authority’, called the Cathedra. And aptly, the church where this Cathedra is located at, is called the Cathedral, the heart of the bishop’s diocese and the mother of all the churches in the diocese.

Therefore, that seat of the bishop symbolises not just the authority of the bishop over his diocese, but also the unity of the whole local Church and the Christian community to the bishop and therefore to the Universal Church, as then symbolises by the Chair of St. Peter, the Seat of the Pope as the Successor of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ, as the leader of the entire Universal Church, the whole One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

By this virtue, the Pope has been entrusted with the care of the whole community of the faithful, to safeguard the truth and the teachings of the Lord, His commandments and laws as passed down faithfully through the generations. He also spoke with the authority of the Lord, as we have heard from our first reading today, in the Epistle of St. Peter, in which St. Peter spoke exhorting the bishops and leaders of the Church to be responsible and faithful in the exercise of their mission.

St. Peter reminded the bishops, then known as elders and overseers in the earliest days of the Church, that they ought to be exemplary in their conduct and faith, so that by their faith and obedience to God, they might be faithful and be good examples for their flock, helping and leading them down the right path towards God. Otherwise, they would be leading them down the wrong path, and then, much blame will be on them.

That is why some Church traditions held that the famous St. John Chrysostom, the Doctor of the Church and one of the most influential Church fathers, himself also a bishop of the Church, spoke of how the road to hell is paved with the skulls and bones of errant and terrible priests and especially bishops who led the faithful astray down the wrong path, either through their own immoral and unfaithful life, or through false teachings and ideas.

Today, all of us are called to pray for our bishops, as well as our priests, and first and foremost of all, for our Pope, the successor of St. Peter, that in the heavy responsibilities they held, they might remain strong in faith, and firm in their conviction and their beliefs, so as not to be overwhelmed by the many temptations and pressures surrounding them, or be swayed by false teachings and ideas that can lead them astray, and then lead all the flock astray as well.

Let us all give them our prayers, our support and love, brothers and sisters in Christ, that our Pope first of all, then the other bishops may imitate the faith and examples of St. Peter, whose faith in the Lord was unwavering to the end, and whose humility was indeed exemplary. Although St. Peter himself did make mistakes and famously denied the Lord three times, but in his imperfections, he remained filled with love for God, and was genuinely remorseful for his actions.

The kind of courage and faith, the genuine love that St. Peter had in loving God, in declaring His faith and dedication to the Lord, is something that all of us Christians should also have, and are especially important for the leaders of the Church, the shepherds entrusted with the care of the faithful. Therefore, as we celebrate together this Feast of Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, let us all renew our support and obedience to the Magisterium of the Church in our Pope and the bishops, and especially to our Pope, Francis, as the successor of St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ.

May the Lord continue to bless the Church, our Pope and the bishops, our own respective diocesan bishops and all others entrusted with the positions of leadership within the Church, that He will continue to guide them and protect them, and give them the wisdom and strength to lead and guide, to show the way to us, the flock of the Lord, that together as one Church, we may come to the Lord’s salvation, grace and eternal glory with Him. Amen.

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