Homily for Mass at Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa

4.15pm Saturday & 7.30pm Sunday

[Readings: Is 22:15, 19-23;  Ps 138;  Rom 11:33-36;  Mt 16:13-20]


The attention of the Catholic world is currently on Madrid.  Archbishop Prendergast and young people from our archdiocese are there.  They are in Madrid for a meeting with the successor of St Peter!


On arriving in Madrid on Thursday, Pope Benedict said the following:  I have come here to meet thousands of young people from all over the world, Catholics committed to Christ searching for the truth that will give real meaning to their existence. I come as the Successor of Peter, to confirm them all in the faith, with days of intense pastoral activity, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life; to motivate the commitment to build up the Kingdom of God in the world among us; to exhort young people to know Christ personally as a friend and so, rooted in his person, to become faithful followers and valiant witnesses.


It’s a nice co-incidence, then, that the Gospel reading we hear this weekend is of the commission that Jesus gives to Peter.  Many were confused about who Jesus was.  We hear some of the answers that they give.  It’s Simon Peter who speaks the plain truth.  By divine inspiration (says Jesus) Peter says exactly who Jesus is.  And then Jesus says that he will build his Church on the rock of Peter’s faith – and he also gives to Peter the power to bind and loose.  Some people might mistakenly claim that there’s no basis in scripture for the Church or for the Pope’s ministry – and yet here we have it in plain words.


Peter had a role – given to him by Jesus – to be the rock on which the church would be built.  Of course Jesus is the true rock, the cornerstone.  But after his resurrection and ascension Jesus would need to be represented by a sign: a sign that would constantly point to Jesus, the true foundation;  a sign that would make the ministry and message of Jesus visible and active in history.  That sign is Peter, and after him his successors, the Popes, the bishops of Rome.


All of this follows the logic of the incarnation.  God became flesh in Jesus Christ – so that people could see, touch, hear.  After the ascension, God wanted the ministry of Jesus to continue also in a tangible way … through the ministry of people.  And so the activity of Jesus’ first apostles, with Peter singled out by Jesus in a special way, would continue in the world through the successors of the apostles – the college of bishops, together with and in union with the successor of St Peter, the Pope.


The Pope today continues what Peter was doing on that day in the district of Caesarea Philippi: he speaks the truth about who Jesus is.  Many today don’t know about Jesus, and don’t understand him properly.  The Pope, at World Youth Day – as he does all the time – will be helping the young pilgrims to understand Jesus;  to understand what it means to be his disciples;  so that they can live a life of faith in Christ.


The ministry of Peter in the Church of Jesus Christ, continued by the Popes down through the ages, is one of the true treasures of our tradition.  The Petrine Ministry is one that seeks to foster the unity of faith around Jesus Christ.  It is one that strengthens believers.  It is something that makes us realize we belong to a faith that is truly universal – throughout the whole world, and indeed throughout the ages.


Insofar as St Peter pointed to Christ, this is the role of the Pope too.  And so the Pope has been known not just as the Vicar of St Peter, but also the Vicar of Christ – Christ’s representative on earth.  St Catherine of Sienna called the Pope, “my sweet Christ on earth.”


In our day, with the modern means of communication, I think we are particularly blessed to have direct contact with the ministry of the Pope.  Not only through his numerable visits throughout the world, like for World Youth Day, but the catechesis he gives each Wednesday, his homilies and speeches, are all readily available on the internet.  There is so much in those that can nourish us, to help us understand our faith better, and ultimately to lead us closer to Jesus and make us better Christians.


Today as we are reminded of the commission that Jesus gave to Peter, and as we see that commission being lived out in our own day by Pope Benedict, let’s thank God for the gift of the Petrine Ministry in the church.  Let’s pray for the Pope and his intentions every day, that he may faithfully render this service to God’s people of strengthening the faith of the brothers and sisters of Jesus.