Mass at the Tomb of Saint Peter
Visit “Ad Limina”
Dec. 2, 2019
Growing up, the word “grounded” meant something different than it does now. If before, being “grounded” meant we were kept at home as punishment for mischief, through the years, the word took on more profound meanings. As we came of age, being “grounded” had to do with our being sensible and balanced. But for us who have who have come on this visit “ad limina”, the word “grounded” attains a still more profound meaning. We have come on pilgrimage to the threshold of the Apostles, because we seek to be “grounded” and “rooted” yet more firmly in the apostolic foundations of our ministry as bishops, in the apostolic foundations of our identity, leadership, and service. How appropriate that we begin our visit at the tomb of Peter, the rock upon whom Christ built his Church, and later today, cross the threshold of Peter’s successor, Pope Francis. Let us pray fervently that our ministry will always be exercised in a deep and loving communion with the Successor of Peter.
The Scripture readings just proclaimed go to the heart of that prayerful intention, our intention to be renewed in the foundations of our apostolic ministry, and to carry out our ministry with one mind and heart, united to Pope Francis. Let us pause for a moment to reflect on the Scriptures we have heard.
The Gospel recounts that pivotal moment in salvation history when Jesus took his disciples to Caesarea Philippi, a Hellenistic city, populated mainly by Gentiles, and located at the mouth of the Jordan River. There, ‘far from the madding crowd’, Jesus engaged in a bit of popular polling. He asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The answers to that poll, like so many taken up today, were predicable: “John the Baptist…Elijah…Jeremiah…one of the prophets.” But not content with that, Jesus put his closest followers on the spot: “Who do you say that I am?” he asked. It was a moment for the disciples to take stock of what they had seen and heard. It was a moment of profound encounter between Christ and his disciples.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” His answer was not merely correct; it was a revelation from God the Father, And it was because of this divine revelation, uttered by Simon, son of Jonah, that Christ, the “living stone”, gave him the name of Peter, and made him the “unshakeable rock” upon which he built his Church (CCC № 552). In these days when we feel buffeted by challenges on every side, in these days when many say that the bottom is dropping out of the Church, our heart should rejoice and our spine should be stiffened as in this place we hear anew the solemn promise of Jesus that the forces of sin and death will not prevail against his Church. Here Jesus is not asking us to be optimists but rather witnesses of hope, ministers of word, sacrament, and charity who put our absolute trust in him.
So too, we accept anew and with deep humility, the power of “binding and loosing” given to the Church by Christ, through Peter. Jesus conferred this power upon us in the grace of the Holy Spirit that we might teach as he did, with the authority of truth, love, and holiness; that we might administer the Church’s discipline, well and wisely, and compassionately; that we might absolve sins and, when necessary, retain them, but always in a spirit of mercy. Thus are we to be “grounded”, renewed, in the very foundation of our ministry.
Renewed in the Exercise of Our Ministry
Yet our “re-grounding” will not be complete unless we learn from St. Peter’s lived experience and indeed the lived experience of Pope Francis. Peter’s confession of Christ as Son of God was not the end but rather the beginning, the beginning of a discipleship marked by missteps and even betrayal, but also the beginning of a ministry that ended in the glory of martyrdom. In between, Peter shares with us this morning what he learned along the way as to how we ought to carry out our ministry as elders, presbyters, indeed bishops. In so doing, he touches on themes that are mirrored in the pastoral experience of Pope Francis.
In a nutshell, Peter warns us against three common pitfalls in the exercise of ministry: First, he tells us to tend the flock of God not begrudgingly, but willingly. We can all remember the joy we felt when we were appointed bishops and sent to the local churches we are privileged to serve. But facing a constant stream of issues, complaints, criticisms, and needs, we can grow weary, self-protective, and even resentful. But the Lord loves a cheerful giver, and so, he calls you and me in these days to give not merely of ourselves but to give our very selves in the service of the Church. Thus does Pope Francis call us to serve God’s People with joy, the joy of the Gospel, the joy of love, a joy that perdures and endures come what may. Next, Peter warns us against using ministry for financial gain or personal comfort, a warning that resonates, loud and clear, especially in our Region. Thus, both Peter and his successor, Francis, call us to simplicity of life, a pastoral poverty that enables us to keep the poor clearly in focus at all times. And finally, Peter repeats the Lord’s admonition not to lord authority over others, nor to think too highly of ourselves and the positions we find ourselves in. Instead, we are to exercise our ministry in the spirit of the Good Shepherd, working in a partnership with priests, deacons, religious, and lay men and women, working to become what Pope Francis calls, “a synodal Church”, a church that listens and learns, a church in which every member is responsible for proclaiming and bearing witness to the Gospel and spreading it.
“Rooted and Grounded in Love”
Dear brothers and dear friends: with the Christ whom we confess—in union with Peter—dwelling in our hearts, may we be “rooted and grounded in love” in comprehending and proclaiming “the height and depth and length and breadth of Christ’s love” (Eph. 3:17), for the glory of God, for the good of the Church, and for the salvation of souls. St. Peter, pray for us!