Thursday, February 21, 2013

Homily for the Chair of Peter

Today is the Feast of the Chair of Peter, Prince of the Apostles, Vicar of Christ on earth. The chair or cathedra Petri is symbolized in the Vatican Basilica which bears his name by Bernini’s enormous monument at the end of the western apse. Four great saints, two from the East and two from the West, hold the chair by slim ribbons as angels swirl ‘round and from the heavens the Holy Spirit descends upon the chair, the Pope and the Church.

The chair is empty, because it belongs to Peter, who is now enthroned with the other Apostles and his Lord in heaven.

And I have known Peter. I have known him in the joy of “good Pope John,” whose unbounded optimism and extraordinary courage gave joy to my youth, as he convened a Council of aggiornamento and opened the doors of the Church to the modern world.

I have known Peter, when as a seminarian I witnessed the aching heart of Pope Paul VI, who agonized and grappled with the greatest problems of his day with a love of the Church and a love of the world so tangible that it was almost painful to watch. Who before the U.N. Security Council declared “No more war! War never again!” and who prophesied that, when it comes to life, “there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go,”1 and for the Sacred Liturgy sought a people who “should become attentive, entering into dialogue by song and action...consisting not only of outward acts but of an inner movement of faith and devotion, investing the rites with a real power and beauty.”2

I have known Peter. I have known him in the flash of light which was Pope John Paul I. I have known him in the intensity and strength of Blessed Pope John Paul II. Who spoke the truth unflinchingly and bore the cross before our eyes as a clear reflection of his suffering Lord.

I have known Peter, even in these latter days. I have known him in the quiet brilliance of Pope Benedict XVI. Whose words were as beautiful as his heart was pure, and who leaves us gently, assuring us that the Lord will take care of us and that the Church belongs to God and not to any pope or person of power.

And in the weeks to come, I will know Peter again. Perhaps with an Italian accent, or in black skin; perhaps with a ready joy or a contemplative demeanor; perhaps with the intensity of youth or the sagacity of old age; perhaps with a pastor’s zeal or an intellectual’s genius....I will know Peter again. For the Holy Spirit will give us a new Vicar of Christ, as a new Prince of the Apostles sits in the cathedra of the Bishop of Rome.


1 - Pope Paul VI, Humane Vitae, no. 17.

2 - Pope Paul VI, General audience, 17 March, 1965.