Everyone who has ever been to a Vacation Bible School has sung the old song, "Peter built the Church on the rock of our faith . . . " We Catholics believe, however, that it was Jesus Christ who built the Church on the rock of Peter's faith, going so far as to give his disciple Simon the name Peter, which means "Rock."
Christ didn't just give Simon a new namehe gave him a new job. Peter was the first pope, a fact which we celebrate today, February 22, in the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. The Papacy has continued, unbroken, down through 265 popes of the Roman Catholic Church over two millennia. The length of time that this institution has survived is a remarkable achievementand, one might argue, itself proof of the divinely ordained nature of the office of the Vicar of Christ.
In 2013, our celebration of the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter is, of course, bittersweet, in light of Pope Benedict XVI's announcement of his resignation, effective at 8:00 P.M. Rome time on February 28, 2013. Yet even as we prepare for the Chair of Saint Peter to become vacant, we know that in March the College of Cardinals will meet in conclave to elect a new pope, who will most likely be installed before Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday.
These are troubling times for the Church, and no one believes that Benedict XVI would have resigned if he had felt physically and intellectually up to the task of guiding the Church through rough waters. But when Christ renamed Simon, He also gave him--and us--a promise: "Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). As the Holy Spirit guides the Church, we can be sure that the next pope to be elected will be the man that we need to ensure that Christ's promise will be fulfilled.(A stained-glass window of Saint Peter, Apostle, in Saint Peter's Cathedral, Rockford, Illinois. Photo © Scott P. Richert)