22/23 August 2020

posted 24 Aug 2020, 02:33 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

(22 & 23/8/20)

Who is your favourite Pope? There are so many possibilities down through the ages – so many different personalities and styles of leadership. Maybe you prefer Pope Francis. Some people see him as being more like your average, friendly Parish Priest, rather than a distant figure. Perhaps you might prefer the great charisma of Pope St John Paul II, and his great devotion to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady. You might prefer Pope Benedict, a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord, with his clear insight, deep thought, yet his real ability to explain the faith to First Holy Communion children. Perhaps you might prefer a Pope from the more distant past. But whatever your choice, or choices of favourite Pope, they were all a focus of unity and a real gift to the Church.

The papacy is a real gift. It means that there is direction and focus in the Church, and most importantly of all, we are kept on the straight and narrow when it comes to following the Lord.

Back in the time of Our Lord, the Jews had a similar sort of authority to guide them. In Matthew 23, Jesus says, “The scribes and the Pharisees occupy the chair of Moses. You must therefore do what they tell you and listen to what they say”; unfortunately, though, He has this to add: “but do not be guided by what they do: since they do not practise what they preach” (vs. 2-3). In today’s Gospel, Christ sets up a new authority in His Church. As I’m sure you remember, St Matthew’s Gospel was written for Jewish converts, who would have a good grasp of the Old Testament, and so it includes reference back to the Old Testament. Today’s Gospel is no exception, as it refers back to the first reading from Isaiah. Shebna is dismissed from his post and replaced by Eliakim son of Hilkiah. The Lord transfers the authority to him and says, “I place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; should he open, no one shall close, should he close, no one shall open”. Compare that with: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven”.

But we know from the life of St Peter, that this authority doesn’t mean that Peter is perfect in every way, or therefore that any Pope is perfect in every

way. Peter was impetuous – at one moment he said that he was prepared to die for Christ rather than deny Him, but then a few hours later he did deny Him. Popes, despite the grace given them by God, are still human beings and can still make errors of judgement. But the real gift we have as Catholics is that, because of the Pope, because of that gift of the Holy Spirit they have, we have a body of teaching that is sure and definite, like a rock. It’s not like other situations, where we have to weigh up what different people say, and we have to know who is more trustworthy, and who doesn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story. When it comes to matters of faith and morals, when the Pope teaches, it is Peter who speaks, and Christ who speaks through him. An off-the-cuff remark is different. If the Pope is asked who is the best football team, he probably won’t answer either Stoke City or Port Vale. But when speaking in an official capacity as Pope about an important matter of Church teaching, that is when we need to sit up and take notice. And if I ever preach anything that seems to be contrary to the Catechism, then check with me first what I said. But if there were ever to be a conflict, then you must follow the Catechism, which sets out the teaching of the Church, as taught by the Pope.

So who is your favourite Pope? Whatever your answer, we know that no matter what the personality of the Pope, God is at work through him; his authority goes back to Simon Peter, and the Holy Spirit is his guide.