Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies

"'Where Peter is, There is the Church'"
Homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
August 21, 2011
Year A

There is a saying in Rome: “One who goes into a conclave a Pope, comes out again as Cardinal.” On April 19, 2005, only a day and a half after the Papal Conclave had commenced, shortly after 6pm, white smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel – a new pope had been elected. Many of us living in the City of Rome at that time made a mad-dash to St. Peter’s Square in order to find out who had been elected. Thirty minutes after the first signs of white smoke, Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez came to the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica and made the famous announcement: Habemus Papam. Shortly thereafter, the newly elected Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger, who had taken the name Benedict XVI, came to the loggia to greet the exuberant crowd of pilgrims. Numerous rumors spread all over the world as to who would be the next pope. Cardinal Ratzinger was among the favorites. The interesting thing is that of the past sixteen popes, only three of his predecessors were also favorites: Leo XIII, Pius XII, and Paul VI. History shows us that those who speculate usually get it wrong. This is very true with regard to today’s media and their dealings with the Church and the Pope himself.

But the Gospel relates to us that this is nothing new. Even in Jesus’ own day, people still got it wrong about him. They misinterpret His mission and message and fail to see Him for who He truly is – God made Man. Therefore, our Lord knew that He would need someone to guide the rest of humanity, including His own disciples, to truth – truth about Christ, the nature of His mission, His message and continue that mission and message through the course of history. At that, St. Peter, speaking on behalf of the other Apostles and moved by the grace of God, gets it right: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus does not rebuke him. He gave us Peter – whose name means ‘rock’ – “upon this rock” – upon you Peter – “I will build my church.” The Church, is thus, guided by St. Peter – whom we recognize in the person of the Holy Father, the Pope. The mission of the Holy Father is the mission of Christ. As St. Augustine once said – so beautifully: “Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia…Where Peter is, there is the Church.”

The question that we can now ask ourselves is this: what is that mission; that message – the mission and message of Christ, of Peter and thus of the Church herself? Jesus gives us the answer: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you lose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” – a statement that alludes to a possible fulfillment to the prophecy found in our first reading: “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.” But if we think about the use and function of a key – an instrument for unlocking – we find the answer to our question. Jesus gives to Peter the keys to heaven, the keys to our Lord’s Heart. Thus Peter’s mission is to unlock for us, to open for us the forgiveness of God. The Church’s mission is one of reconciliation and healing. We see this so beautifully symbolized on the doors or inside many confessionals in Catholic churches all over the world.

With the Church’s principle mission being that of mercy we have to ask ourselves yet another question – are we taking advantage of that grace in our Christian lives? Are we being humble before God and asking Him daily that He forgives all our sins – even those little ones that might not seem so bad? Are we taking full advantage of the means by which the Church provides for us to obtain His mercy – namely, are we going to confession? We must remember that the definition of a sacrament is “an outward sign instituted by Christ that truly effects what it signifies.” In other words – we have to see with the eyes of our faith that in and through the words and gestures found in the sacramental rite of confession is the hidden reality of the mercy of God. We speak our sins to the priest, who by the will of God is the hands, the feet, the face and voice of Christ – no matter what his own personal weaknesses may be – and the priest, by Christ’s authority and the Church’s mission of reconciliation, bestows upon us God’s infinite mercy and healing. Thus, the priest serves as an instrument to make us holy and pure, not simply forgiving our sins but bringing us back into right relationship with God – for ultimately, that is what reconciliation really means, being in harmony with God and neighbor. And it is within this realm, the life of the Church, in which Christ speaks to us and draws us to Himself. The Sacrament of Reconciliation – coupled with the Eucharist – orients our spirit toward Christ – the only direction for our intellect, will and heart. We look to Him and orient ourselves to Him because in Him we find mercy – the salvation of our souls. If we don’t make an effort to seek the Lord, to seek His friendship and obtain His mercy, sadly it is quite possible that we can slip further and further away from Him. Instead of losing ourselves and gaining Christ, we lose Christ and gain only ourselves.

In His wisdom then, Jesus Himself gave us one to guide us and help us on the path of knowledge of His ways, of nurturing our friendship with Him and obtaining His mercy – He gave us the Church with the Pope as our spiritual father and guide. It may seem like the Church has many commandments, laws, and regulations but these are in place in order to show us the path of reconciliation, the path to salvation, and ultimately the path of love – because we cannot do it on our own power.

May the grace and power of the Eucharist grant to us the forgiveness of our sins, an unfailing love and respect for our Holy Father, and orient us toward Christ – the source of all mercy.



Fr. Jon Reardon


Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsfield, MA.




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