Acts 12:1-11; 2Timothy 4:6-8.17-18; Matthew 16:13-19
Perhaps you remember seeing a war movie about a professor in Germany who was thought by the Nazis to have anti-Nazi leanings and so they kept an eye on him in his lectures. One day he drew a triangle on the board and made a map of the German political system and Hitler was on the bottom of the triangle. This got him into trouble and he was taken away. They asked him why he put Hitler on the bottom and he told them it was because the future of Germany rested on his shoulders.
This is a good example of the meaning of the word hierarchy even though this professor’s hierarchy was drawn upside down.
I remember also a conversation I had with an Anglican friend in a former parish of mine. He was actually the pastor of the Anglican parish. We were good friends and often discussed our mutual problems. This day we were discussing recent developments in the Anglican Church when women were first being ordained as Anglican priests. It was causing huge upheaval in that community and he said to me with great sadness: You know, we're tearing ourselves apart and we have no one to stop it.
Isn’t that interesting? We have no one to stop it. I quietly thought to myself: Thank God we do!
My friend was not lamenting the fact that there was no one willing to use his authority to stop the bickering, he was lamenting the fact that there was no one in the Anglican communion who had the authority to stop the bickering. There was no single authority who had oversight and power to do anything about the destructive dispute which is still going on today, except now it is centred on women bishops and practising homosexual clergy.
How glad we should be in the Catholic Church that Christ gave us someone who could stop the fighting! The Pope, the Holy Father, the Supreme Pontiff, the Successor of St Peter, the Universal Shepherd of the People of God, the Vicar of Christ has this total and vitally necessary power. People rail against it, complain about it, disobey it and try to destroy it, but without the Pope and his authority the Catholic Church and, I daresay, the world would soon be reduced to rubble.
Do you remember what Vatican II had to say about this power of the Supreme Pontiff? In paragraph 22 of Lumen Gentium we are told: In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power.
The Pope has full, supreme and universal power over the Church and in exercising this power the Holy Father does not have to get permission from the bishops or even to consult them, and because this power is full and absolute there is no appeal against it.
Lumen Gentium, in the same paragraph, goes on to explain that the college of bishops also has this same power over the Universal Church provided the Pope is always included among them as the head – and never without him.
The bishops can exercise this power only with the consent of the Pope - For our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church, and made him shepherd of the whole flock ... .
This college, insofar as it is composed of many (bishops), expresses the variety and universality of the People of God, but insofar as it is assembled under one head (the Pope), it expresses the unity of the flock of Christ. Many bishops under one Pope.
It would come as no surprise to those of you who know me to hear that I thank God for the gift of the papacy and that I love the Holy Father. He is the means by which God gives unity and order to the Church. I thank God also for the college of bishops. How blessed we are here in the Archdiocese of Sydney to have a bishop such as Cardinal Pell and his assistant bishops! We are the envy of many other places in Australia and around the world.
Today is also the feast of St Paul, a great bishop of the Church. He was the Apostle to the Gentiles, the non-Jews (that’s us). From a persecutor of the Christians he became a preacher of the Gospel, an extraordinary turnaround. His ministry too was extraordinary and is clearly described in Acts and in his own Epistles.
Paul, like Peter, was an exceedingly humble man but ready at any time to use the authority Jesus had given him. He taught the Faith wherever he went, courageously preaching and faithfully passing on only what he had received and adding nothing of his own. He was meticulously careful in this and if he ever did give his own opinion about something he scrupulously made it clear that this was coming from him and not necessarily from the Lord.
Paul tirelessly set up new churches all over Asia Minor and finally gave his life for his Master in Rome where he was beheaded.
Today we celebrate the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. If we believe what the Church believes it is because the Faith received from Christ was lived, preached and safeguarded by them. It is a marvellously great gift for which we should be deeply grateful and this gratitude can be shown by our readiness to live it and hand it on to our children and to all in our lives.