Being a shepherd of the Church
Fr Ireneusz Skubis
The Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul is one of the most important celebrations in the Eternal City where both Apostles founded the first Christian community and gave their lives for faith. Being in Rome we visit the patriarchal basilicas but entering St Peter’s basilica together with visiting the grave of St Peter is one of the deepest experiences. Praying in the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls makes us reflect on our faith. Both basilicas remind us of the magnificent Apostles: St Peter who received the grace of primacy from Christ himself and the Apostle of the Nations St Paul who gave his whole life to Christ and taught us about Christ. St Paul received Christ’s revelation that let him create the moral doctrine of the Church as well as the doctrine concerning her structures. These are the frameworks of the content of the Good News. That Apostle had an extraordinary awareness of the Church, which was revealed e.g. by the fact that he sought to contact Peter.
The source of St Peter’s function in the Church – today we should reflect on this figure as the first among the Apostles – should be seen in the decision of Christ revealed in his question, ‘Peter, do you love me?’ Ascending to heaven Jesus Christ decided that Peter was to be the first among the Apostles. This is not an honorary external primacy but it concerns the very practical existence of the Church. St Peter received a real authority over the Church, which we call the power of the primacy. It influences all structures of the Church. We also have the power of ordination, which all Apostles, ordained by Christ and made his disciples, received. And here we focus on the power of jurisdiction. On the one hand it is collegiate authority since Lord Jesus said, ‘Go and made disciples of all the nations’, which is directed to the whole apostolic college, and through the Apostles to all those who will preach in the name of Jesus, teach about the Holy Trinity and pass all matters concerning salvation. And all the Apostles embraced the history of salvation in a way. However, it is Peter himself that decides about Christian teaching, which means that every pope and this teaching are always based on the power of the primacy. Each elected pope agrees to accept the papal power and he receives this power from God himself and not from the college of the cardinals. It is Christ that raises him and gives the power of primacy. If the Pope appoints bishops and sends them to people, if he runs the Church, he has not been democratically elected but his rule is hierarchical as the origin of power in the Church is hierarchical. When the Pope speaks as the highest teacher of the Church, when he speaks ex cathedra, his teaching is obligatory and of highest authority.
When we reflect on the teaching of the Church on the Feast of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul we mean the whole teaching of the Church. It is revealed in the teaching of the universal council but first of all, in the teaching of the Pope. There is no council without the Pope and his opinion is always most important. It results from the power of the primacy. Thus we can call this celebration a feast of the primacy, basically the primacy of St Peter. This is also the feast of the whole Church since the Magisterium of the Church is connected with the authority that Christ himself gave to the apostolic college.
Therefore, the Day of the Holy Patrons of the Church reveals the teaching of Christ and it is also a feats of the great Church charisma, expressed in the organisational structures of the Church. We wholeheartedly join the celebrations in Rome since it is really a feat of the universal Church.
We, Christians of the 21st century, will undoubtedly associate the Roman celebrations with the great apostle of Christ the Servant of God John Paul II, whose grave near the relics of St Peter has been visited by numerous people. Let us pray that these great Apostles of Jesus strengthen the contemporary shepherds of Christ’s Church so that their teaching and witness reach our conscience, which is often lost on the way to salvation.