Third Sunday of Easter

The central character in today’s Gospel, after that of Jesus Himself, is Saint Peter: the first Pope of our Church.  Jesus Christ built His Church upon the foundation of Saint Peter and the Apostles: that is what we mean when we say in the Creed that we believe in One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Our Church is Apostolic because it is founded upon the Rock of Saint Peter, whose name literally means “rock,” as well as upon the other Apostles and their successors the bishops.

The reason that the apostolic origin of our Church is important is because it is through the Apostles and their successors that we are linked through the centuries back to Jesus Christ.  The Apostles closely accompanied Jesus throughout His earthly ministry and they were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ bodily resurrection.  They met with Jesus after He rose from the dead and they talked with Him; they touched the nail marks in His hands and in His side.  Jesus Christ entrusted them with the Good News, He commissioned them to take His message to the ends of the earth.  Jesus sent the Apostles to baptize and teach all nations.

Furthermore, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would guide the Apostles into all Truth.  Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church.  He gave the Apostles the authority to teach in His name.  Because of Apostolic Succession, we know that the teachings of Jesus Christ have been faithfully handed down from Apostles through their successors, the bishops, down to our very day.  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit, Who is God, would be with the Church and guide it.  Because of Apostolic Succession, we can have great trust and confidence that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit and therefore will not lead us into error.  The Holy Spirit guides the Church when she teaches on faith and morals; if that were not true, we would have no way to know the Truth.

The Church was given the gift of the Holy Spirit in order that it could teach us and lead us into the fullness of Truth.  Of course, we know that gift was entrusted to weak vessels.  All the leaders of the Church are sinners, just like you and I, just like the Apostles.  Remember: Jesus built His Church upon the Apostles and one of the Twelve Apostles is the one who handed Him over to be killed.  Saint Peter, the Rock, denied Jesus three times.  The Gospel tells us that in the Garden of Gethsemane all of the Apostles, those upon whom the Church was to be built, “forsook Him and fled.” (cf. Matthew 26:56)  Isn’t it a scandal that those who would lead the Church abandoned Jesus?  Yes.  And yet we must remember that we all abandon Jesus whenever we sin.  When we sin, we choose some thing over our God, Whom we are to love above all things.

Throughout the history of the Church there have been scandals and failures; and yet the Church has never taught error.  On the one hand the Church is the spotless Bride of Christ which leads us into deeper union with our God; on the other hand, the Church is made up of weak sinners who betray their Lord.  We know that both of these things are true of the Church and yet are not a contradiction: they are a paradox, but not contradictory.  The Church is called to be holy; in Heaven it is already perfectly holy.  We, members of the Church on earth, are to strive for that holiness.

The all-too-human side of the Church can at times cause us to become discouraged; and yet we should never lose hope.  It can be difficult to experience the betrayals and attacks upon the Church from within and from without.  Yet we know that Our Lord has already won the victory.  Jesus Christ promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church and therefore we can have great hope.

Those same Apostles, who abandoned their Lord and ran for their lives when Jesus was arrested on Holy Thursday, were completely transformed at Pentecost.  Once they had received the Holy Spirit, they went out boldly preaching the Good News that Jesus Christ had truly arisen from the dead.  Those same Apostles, who deserted their Teacher in the Garden of Gethsemane; were later beaten, tortured and killed for the message that they proclaimed after the Holy Spirit had strengthened them.

Let us not become discouraged or despondent but let us all remember to pray for the shepherds of the Church and especially for our Holy Father: “Almighty and Everlasting God, have mercy upon Your servant Pope Benedict, our Supreme Pontiff, and upon all bishops, priests and deacons.  Direct them, according to Your loving kindness, in the way of eternal salvation, that with Your help they may ever desire that which is pleasing to You and accomplish it with all their strength.  Amen.”