February 22 2016 - Chair of St. Peter
In ancient Rome, families remembered their dead relatives and friends at a feast during the latter part of February in which an empty chair represented their deceased. Since the early Christians did not know the date of St. Peter’s death, they remembered him with a feast around his empty chair on February 22. Later, the Church would see the Chair of St. Peter as a symbol of his authority as the first bishop of Both Rome and of Antioch.
In the apse of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome there is a famous sculpture by Lorenzo Bernini, an ancient chair enclosed in sculpted bronze, with the holy spirit in the form of the dove hovering over the Chair. Just below the chair, are four theologians, Ambrose and Augustine from the west, Athanasius and John Chrysostom from the west. To show how the great theologians from both the east and the west teach how Peter and his successors lead and guide the holy Church of Christ.
Sculpted into the very chair itself is the image of Jesus feeding the sheep. This is also significant to the role Peter and the Pope’s have in the Church. Sitting in that chair, leading and guiding the Church, they are being faithful to the task Jesus himself gave to Peter, when he told him, “Peter, feed my sheep, feed my lambs.”
This is why, above the chair, along the apse is written "O Pastor Ecclesiae, tu omnes Christi pascis agnos et oves" (O pastor of the Church, you feed all Christ's lambs and sheep
In our first reading, St. Peter himself exhorted the bishops of the church to tend to the flock of God, not lording their authority over the sheep, but serving with love. As Catholics we don’t resent the fact that we have popes and bishops in these leadership positions. They serve us, by teaching us, helping us to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus, correcting us when we step out of line, for the sake of our souls.
We have been blessed during our lifetime, with very holy Popes. One of my favorite images is that of the Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and Pope Francis, side by side, with the words hope, faith, and love underneath. Pope John Paul taught us how to have hope in Christ when the world was filling with greed and violence. Pope Benedict taught us how to have clear and solid faith, when the world was filling with the darkness of error. And now Pope Francis teaches us to have love, when the world is filling up with selfishness and self-concern.
Today we certainly pray for the Pope and his successors, that they may continue to feed Christ’s flock, and we pray for ourselves as well, that we may be responsive to the voice of the Good Shepherd who speaks through Peter, for the glory of God and salvation of souls.
-Fr. Kevin Estabrook