Homily for Mass – Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

(Saint John Fisher Church, Tarragindi: Saturday 6:00pm; Sunday 9:00am;

Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: Sunday 5:00pm)

23/24 August 2014

[Readings: Is 22:1-23; Ps 137; Rom 11:33-36; Mt 16:13-20]

 In our first reading today we hear of Eliakim and Shebna, who were the chief stewards – or like the prime minister – under King Hezekiah, the king of Judah. “The king had many servants … but one man was chief among them and stood between the king and his other ministers” [1]. We are told, in the first reading, that this prime minister would “be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the House of Judah,” and as a sign of his office he would be given the keys of the kingdom, the key of the House of David.

The keys held by Shebna and Eliakim, as prime ministers, were not to a city gate, but to the royal palace, the house of David. The keys would “grant access to a throne room where the king may be petitioned, and to a treasury from which that king can reward his subjects, [and] to the royal granaries from which his people will be fed” [2].

Our first reading and Gospel sit side by side, and in the Gospel we hear Jesus giving Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Peter is to be a “prime minister” of sorts – a chief shepherd. The keys that Peter holds “grant access to the throne of God in prayer, to the treasury of grace, [and] to the granaries of the bread of heaven” [2].

In the first reading Isaiah is prophesying that a time would come when one prime minister would replace another. This holds true for the ministry of Peter: there is a succession of Popes, so that the same ministry that Peter exercised at the beginning, given to him by Christ, continues to be exercised in the Church by his successor, the Pope.

Caesaria Phillipi, where today’s Gospel scene is set, was the place of the shrine to the pagan god Pan. His shrine was a series of rocks, in fact a whole rocky hillside, which had been consecrated to Pan [3]. It was here, in the place of the rock shrine to a pagan God, that Jesus establishes a new kingdom, his Church, one based on his rule, his authority, “Jesus builds a church, a new people, on the rock of his apostle” Peter [2].

The first thing Jesus says about his Church is that “the gates of the underworld can never hold out against it.” Right from the beginning Jesus indicates that his Church will be in a battle with the forces of hell, but that his Church would prevail. In Jesus’ own lifetime, he had to struggle with the forces of death, and he had to be killed before rising to new life. “His Church is caught up in that same struggle, [and] will know persecution, suffering and death.” The Church currently suffers “terribly in Iraq and Syria; but the Church, too, will overcome death to share in the risen life of Jesus” [2]. Christ’s Church will face this battle with the forces of death on many fronts. But, the gates of hell will not prevail.

Today we are invited to reflect on Christ’s gift of the papacy to his Church. Every Pope is different, and we see in each of them the particular ways that God blesses and guides His people in each moment of history: sending Popes with particular gifts at particular times. The Pope strengthens the faith of the brothers and sisters of Jesus; he is the Shepherd who leads the whole community of the Lord’s disciples. The Papacy is a permanent structure of Christ’s Church, and the succession of the papacy is based in the city of Saint Peter’s martyrdom – Rome. The Pope, like Peter, is to sacrifice himself for the sake of Christ’s bride, the Church.

Saint Peter’s successor promotes and defends the unity of faith and the communion of all believers (1). Just as Peter, at Caesarea Phillipi, correctly named who Jesus was, so too his successor continues to articulate the Church’s faith, and to help believers come to Jesus and understand who Jesus is, and what mission he has entrusted to us. Our Popes, above all, call us to prayer, and they communicate to us “something of the infinite grace of God that will feed us and give us everlasting life” [2].

Let’s pray especially today for our Holy Father, Pope Francis.

May the Lord preserve him, give him a long life, make him blessed upon the earth, and may the Lord not hand him over to the power of his enemies. Lord, may your hand be upon your holy servant.   And upon your son whom you have anointed.

 Let us pray … O God, the Pastor and Ruler of all the faithful, look down, in your mercy, upon your servant, Francis, whom you have appointed to preside over your Church; and grant, we beseech you, that both by word and example, he may edify all those under his charge; so that, with the flock entrusted to him, he may arrive at length unto life everlasting. Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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[1] Fr Jason Mitchell, LC: http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/sunday-homily-i-will-give-you-the-keys-to-the-kingdom-of-heaven?

[2] Fr Richard Finn, OP: http://torch.op.org/preaching_sermon_item.php?sermon=5820

[3] Fr Aidan Nicols, OP, Year of the Lord’s Favour, A Homiliary for the Roman Liturgy, Volume 3: The Temporal Cycle, Sundays Through the Year.