Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter the Apostle, which sounds pretty silly. A whole feast day for a chair?
I mean, it is pretty magnificent.
But the feast day isn’t about the chair itself, it’s about what it represents- essentially, the Papacy: Jesus handing over the responsibility of building the Church on Earth to Peter and all those who will follow in his footsteps (along with the ever-essential guidance of the Holy Spirit).
Peter was this really rough-and-tumble guy whom Jesus chose to run the Church after He ascended – and it’s amazing, when you think about it: Jesus handing the keys over to a man who a very short time earlier denied that he even knew Jesus, much associated with Him in any way. I admittedly don’t know as much as I should about the early church (it had become known in a Bible study that Acts of the Apostles was my least favorite book of the Bible), but I can imagine that when any human is in charge of anything, mistakes happen. Big mistakes happen. Scandalous, tremendous mistakes happen. Peter did very well, but there’s been evidence through the centuries of the massive difficulties of steering the Church through the extremely rough ocean of the world. And I think of myself, nowhere near ever being Pope (thankfully), helping to steer my own family’s tiny little ship and being terrified, just hoping we make it to dry land all in one piece. How much more difficult is it when your ship holds billions of people?
And yet, the Church endures. Because of Grace.
Today’s feast also got me thinking of why we celebrate them the way we do. My mother died on January 31st, and my parents’ wedding anniversary was just before then, on the 27th. I thought of my Dad on the 27th this year, and called him to wish him a happy anniversary, and knew by the sadness he still had in his voice that that particular day was incredibly hard for him. Although I miss her so much, I don’t miss her as a wife; I miss her as a mother. My father missed her as his wife that day, specific to their relationship; and so he thinks of her in that way, on that day.
And so it is with the Church, too, and these feasts. We remember the Pope all the time; we learn about the Papacy and how it continues its lineage still through all of the hundreds of years. But today we remember in a special way what it all means: that God, knowing in His mercy that just as we have a Father in Heaven we need a Mother on Earth, and for Catholics, that Mother is our Church. We need someone to lead it. St. Peter was the first; Francis is the current shepherd. We do well to pray for him as much as we can!