In today’s ecumenical climate many seem embarrassed to declare the role of St Peter and the importance of communion with his successors
There are various contingent reasons why I love the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul (June 29). It’s usually always sunny and for a school chaplain it marks the beginning of the end of the academic year.
Despite a tendency by some to play down St Paul today, I enjoy reading the stories of his journeys and find inspiration in his letters and his personal transformation. When thinking about my own shortcomings, I take comfort in some of the mistakes that St Peter makes during his time with Jesus while reflecting upon the rock that Peter would eventually become.
Most importantly this day is a time of thanksgiving for me as I am reminded that I am a Catholic whose faith is built upon the foundation of the apostles. We often do not appreciate what a gift communion with St Peter actually is and that it offers something that many people are searching for in their lives today.
My reception into the Catholic Church came after a long period of discernment. For many years as an Anglican I thought that I was Catholic. Fixed to the door of the Church that I attended when I was younger was a sign that declared as much, assuring all that entered that “The Church of England was Catholic and nowhere in the Book of Common Prayer was the word protestant mentioned…”. This summed up what many of those who described themselves as Anglo Catholics thought and at the time it made sense to me. Gradually, informed by the trajectory upon which the Church of England was set, I came to realise that I was not in full communion with St Peter and therefore not part of Christ’s Church. Rather than escaping any particular issue or crisis, St Peter became for me a draw that could not be ignored.
In today’s ecumenical climate many seem embarrassed to proclaim the role of St Peter and the importance of communion with his successors. If we play this down or are apologetic about it then we lose something important and missional. Jesus entrusted his authority to his apostles. He gave particular authority to Peter to whom he gave the keys of the kingdom. This authority, handed down through the sacrament of Holy Orders from bishop to bishop, is one of the most beautiful gifts that Jesus offered us.
Authority to define doctrine, forgive sins, heal and safeguard truth means that we can be certain of God’s grace dwelling within our Church. These are things we see manifest in the New Testament which are being lived out in the Catholic Church today. Why would we keep this quiet? This is something that everyone should know about. In a world of uncertainly the Church can offer hope, stability and continuity.
St Peter: a stumbling block or a source of renewal?
When I was received into the Church just over five years ago many people asked me about Papal authority. They wanted to know whether I believed things just because the Pope said so. The teaching ministry and authority of St Peter was an important factor in my becoming a Catholic but I viewed things a little differently than they perceived.
I have followed the authority of the Successors of Peter because they have kept the faith, even when at odds with the world. My journey into the Catholic Church was fuelled by the growing realisation that the teaching of St Peter is the historic consensus of the Church (and of Jesus) reaffirmed in each generation. Appreciation of this maintenance of the Faith’s coherence and continuity is something I find comes up again and again as I meet people who seek to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. Such fidelity to Jesus’s teaching is certainly attractive.
I am not naive and I realise that we have our own challenges in terms of authority but only those who have ministered on the shifting sands of Protestant opinions will know how refreshing and renewing it is to have that sense of communion with the rock of Peter. For me being under this authority means that I can be liberated from many of the concerns which weighted me down as an Anglican and focus on being a priest and sharing the Gospel.
This solemnity is a good time to revaluate our own relationship with St Peter and the Church and to give thanks for this wonderful and life giving gift.