Today’s feast in the Roman Catholic Church is a deeply symbolic one. We celebrate not a person but a symbol. It’s the feast of “the Chair of Peter.” It doesn’t mean we are reminded of a piece of furniture, beautiful as it may be, and not really even the name of the one person that it is named for, St. Peter. Rather, the Chair of Peter stands for the individuals – some holy and some less so – who have occupied the position of leader in Christendom (and later Catholicism) throughout the centuries since the designation of Peter by Jesus as the leader of his “flock” (and, by extension, those who lead dioceses around the world).
As I was reading again about the significance of this feast which spans over 2,000 years, I thought about that symbolism and the importance of prepositions in definitions. What I mean is the difference of over and for in this case. The Chair of Peter is a symbol of the authority of the leader of the universal Catholic Church, i.e. Pope Francis at present. He is quite clear in his understanding, it seems, that his authority is for church members around the world rather than over all of us. It is for our benefit that he speaks and for the good of the world as teacher that he proclaims.
As is always the case, his leadership is too progressive for some and too traditional for others. What is clear, however, is his humility and his joyful love for people. So leaving personality and politics aside for a moment, today we – and others who appreciate longevity – can celebrate that the Catholic Church has endured for two millennia because of and sometimes in spite of the person who sits in the Chair of Peter.