“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” – Matthew 16:17-19
Peter, a fisherman, invited by Jesus to be one of his twelve apostles? How could this be? He was a simple fisherman! Jesus knew that he was bold and outspoken. Jesus understood that Peter would have many questions. He would take risks, and sometimes let his heart get in the way of his head. But Jesus also recognized that it was Peter who first recognized him as the “Anointed One” – sent by God.
What faith Peter must have had! Yet it was this same faith that would be shaken to the point that he would deny Jesus three times. How could he? Peter had seen Jesus work miracles, heal the sick, give sight to blind… He was with him from the very beginning. But even Peter, whose very name means “rock”, would deny Jesus in his greatest hour of need. But that is not the end of the story.
The Risen Savior tells Peter to “Feed my lambs”. Peter would become the shepherd over all the shepherds. He would be the first pope, appointed by Jesus, as the shepherd of the whole Church, the Bishop of Rome and Vicar of Christ. Peter was made the leader of the entire Christian community. The Lord made Peter the “rock” of His Church. He gave him the keys of His Church and made him shepherd of the whole flock. As Jesus said, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Now make no mistake about it. It was Jesus himself who, as the catechism reminds us, “was the source of ministry in the Church. He instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal”. Jesus gave us the Church. But Jesus also gave Peter His own authority to speak in His name in the Church. He gave Peter the “the sacred power” to act in persona Christi Captitis, in the person of Jesus the Head of the Church. Just as Peter was given this authority, so too have those who have succeeded him.
The Pope is Peter’s successor. As the successor of Peter, he is not only the Bishop of Rome, he is the pastor of the entire Church. What does that mean? Simply put, the Pope has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church. He has the responsibility of being the supreme pastor and teacher of all faithful. The Pope has the awesome power and responsibility to hand on the teachings of Christ.