Jesus, in his great generosity has given to you and I the Pope. That’s how he works. He always sends to us an individual through whom he rules us, teaches us, sanctifies us, and unites us. In Exodus, we hear the story of how God gave Moses to the Hebrews. We also hear this in Isaiah 22 when God gave Eliakim to Israel.
In both of these examples, these chosen men worked tirelessly to govern, to teach according to the law of the covenant, to sanctify through the liturgical rites, and to unite by representing God to the people and the people to God.
How wonderful it is that Jesus Christ does the same!
Now there is one thing we must understand about Jesus. He could have stayed on earth in his glorified form after his Resurrection. Indeed, he was the chosen one sent by the Father. Yet, he who was sent also sends: “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you” (Jn. 20).
Who does he send? One of the ones he sends is Simon-son-of-Jonah. Upon Simon’s proclamation of faith, Jesus gives him a new name…a name that signifies the nature of his mission. He was to be the Rock of the Church. What does this mean? It means that the members of the Church, you and I, will always have assurance from Christ that the gates of hell shall never prevail against us.
The means by which Christ assures this is the rock. Peter, and his successors, the popes, each serve as the rock. They serve as the rock, like Eliakim in the book of Isaiah, who was “like a peg in a sure spot” for Israel. The popes are given the keys to the Kingdom of God and the vocation to bind and loose. This hearkens back to Eliakim, who was given the keys to the “House of David,” so that “when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open” (Is. 22).
Our wonderful Lord, in a way that is surprising yet not uncharacteristic, gives us the Pope to govern, teach, sanctify, and unite his Church.
Yet, it does not stop there. The structure of the Church does not end at the rock. The apostles are the pillars and the people are the living stones. All of this structure is built around Christ, the cornerstone!
The Holy Spirit fills this structure with life, light and love.
Then this whole structure is offered to God the Father. In no other place is done more powerfully than in the Eucharist. And in no other place is this structure repaired more effectively than in the sacrament of Confession.
So, that’s it then. The Pope has the keys and all the authority and no one else does, right? Wrong.
You see, the pope also represents the entire apostolic life of the Church. The apostles and their successors, the bishops, also share in the work of binding and loosing. For that reason, our own bishop can bind and loose. He is the chief teacher in his diocese. He is the ultimate spiritual and juridical authority in his diocese. He can lay down rules and make exemptions, impose and lift excommunications, forgive and not forgive sins (in the case of the unrepentant), and perform exorcisms. All of the presbyters (commonly called “priests”) assist him in this mission for all the people in his diocese.
So, it stops there, right? Wrong. This apostolic authority flows to the people of God as well. Parents serve in this task in their own households for their children by teaching them in word and example. They create a household of forgiveness and devotion to our Lord. Lay leaders in the Church, such as catechists, teachers and professors, do the same. They, and many other members of the Church, grant access to our Lord Jesus Christ, in communion with the rock and the pillars.
Our Lord Jesus Christ does this so that we can all be united in a union symbolized by the pope.
All of us are connected to the capstone, Jesus Christ. And all of us, together, proclaim with Peter that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”