Sunday, August 24, 2014

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A (Aug. 24, 2014)

First reading: Is. 22: 19-23

“Thus says the Lord to Shebna, master of the palace: ‘I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station.  On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah; I will clothe him with our robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority.  He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.  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.  I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family.”
Second reading: Rom. 11: 33-36

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?  Or who has given the Lord anything that he may be repaid?  For from him and through him and for him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen.”

Gospel reading: Mt. 16: 13-20

“Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ they replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’  He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’  Simon Peter said in reply, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’  Jesus said to him in reply, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah.  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.  And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.  Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’  Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.”


Introductory theme summary:
The obvious common theme from the Old Testament and Gospel readings today is the papacy.  Less obvious, however, is how the second reading ties into the papal theme.  I would remind the readers that the Lord himself established the prominent role of Peter, which did in fact evolve into what has become the papacy.  The second reading should therefore be applied to the real importance of the papacy, whether the reader accepts what it has become or not.

The issue of the papacy begins with understanding what its purpose actually is.  The first clue to that point is revealed to us in why Peter was distinguished apart from the rest of the apostles – because he was the first to understand Jesus’ then hidden significance to God’s plan of salvation.  That reveals to us the primary purpose for the papacy, which is to safeguard the authentic understanding of Jesus as the Christ and his message of salvation – i.e. the Catholic (universal) truth. 

Then there is the issue of the power Jesus gave Peter at the declaration of his prominence among the rest of the apostles.  That power is to bind and to loose.  Though this binding and loosening can be applied to their power to forgive sins in which they empower priests to share with them, this passage is addressing a different need specifically.  That need is to distinguish those who are consistent with that authentic truth – orthodoxy.  Though this power can be exercised over anyone who teaches the faith, it is primarily intended to be applied specifically to those who share in the official responsibility of representing the faith to the world along with Peter – i.e. the apostles.  For the Church today that now applies to the individual who occupies the office of pope and all those who participate in the apostolic succession – all the bishops, along with those who share in each bishop’s teaching authority – priests and deacons.
The “binding” function is exercised through the process of ordination.  By determining a candidate suited for ordination they are not being judged as better than other Christians.  They are being determined as authentically called by God and sufficiently prepared to represent the true faith accurately (i.e. orthodoxy) for the benefit of the entire faith community.  This process always begins with the office of deacon, with most becoming priests shortly thereafter.  Some, who are recognized as possessing the capacity for the office, receive the full measure of representing the faith.  These are those who become bishops.  Cardinals are bishops who become designated as such for a specific service to the pope.  Their primary function is to safeguard the succession of the seat of Peter – the papacy.

The “loosening” function is exercised by declaring someone excommunicated.  This is necessary in the cases where someone who had previously received official approval (became ordained in any capacity and therefore presumed trustworthy by all the faithful) deviates harmfully from the orthodox representation of the faith to which they committed themselves under the condition of obedience.  This obedience is an absolutely necessity because the influence associated to their office as deacon, priest, or bishop, comes from the Catholic Church, in service of which this power was given.  Contradict the will of the organization to which one becomes empowered to represent and the right to retain that power becomes forfeited due to their own infidelity.  This is not a condemnation of that individual, but a suspension of the teaching authority previously given to that individual.  In other words, their teaching is no longer to be trusted by any of the faithful.  This determination is made for the protection of the faithful.
As it is the salvation needs of the entire human race that the Catholic Church sees herself as commissioned to serve, it is in regard to faithfully accomplishing that purpose commanded her by the Lord that she strives to provide the faith as it was given to her from the apostles.  That is what it means to be an apostolic church.  Those who call their faith apostolic without remaining faithful to the original message of the apostles are falsely representing their faith.  Only that which is Catholic is truly apostolic, and therefore truly trustworthy, as our Lord desired the faith to be presented to us, even to the ends of the earth.

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