Today we celebrate one of the SOLEMNITIES of our Church calendar, that is, one of the feast of the highest order in our liturgical celebrations. The reason is that it is the commemoration of Saints Peter and Paul, the first pope and the great apostle to the Gentiles.
Every organization must have authority. Without it, no human group can function. There must be someone at the helm, in control, “calling the shots,” as we say in slang. Our Divine Lord knows this perfectly well, so when founding his church, he took care of that need by giving us what is called the hierarchy, that is, the pope and bishops. He chose twelve apostles during his public life on earth, and then after his ascension into heaven and Pentecost, he chose one more: Paul of Tarsus who, although a devout and well-educated Jew, had been born and raised outside the Holy Land, in what is today southern Turkey. He was thus very familiar with Greek culture, history, language, and society. He was the ideal person to form a bridge between Jewish theology and history and that of the Greek-speaking, Gentile world. This was very important, because Christ founded his Church for all humankind, Jew and Gentile alike.
Saint Peter was the head of the apostles, made so by Jesus. After some time in and around Jerusalem, he went to Rome and there established his headquarters since it was the capital and heart of the Roman Empire. His successors have been the bishops of Rome and therefore, the supreme bishop of the entire Church. Just as the other apostles maintained their unity with Saint Peter during that first generation of the Church, so do all Catholic bishops maintain their unity with the pope today. If someone is not in communion with the bishop of Rome—the pope, he or she cannot be said to be a Catholic. Thus today, we have one pope and many bishops, corresponding to the number of dioceses throughout the world. As the Catholic population grows, so does the number of dioceses and their bishops.
We Catholics of this particular time in history are especially fortunate to have been blessed with a series of exceptional men to be our popes. Beginning in 1846 with the election of Pius IX, who has already been beatified, we have had Leo XIII, Saint Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI, Pius XII, [Saint] John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, [Saint] John Paul II, and now Benedict XVI. God has blessed the church during this period with as fine a series of popes as the Church has ever known. History may one day speak of the golden age of the papacy as being the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.
When authority is properly exercised, it results in unity, peace, clarity, and security. The very word “authority” comes from a Latin verb meaning “to promote progress.” The apostles promoted the progress of the Church in their time. Their successors have done the same, some more effectively, some less. On this solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, let us be grateful to Our Divine Lord for these gifts; let us appreciate our popes and bishops and love them, pray for them, and be totally loyal to them. Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God Bless you. Father Victor Brown.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.