TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
One of the last things I did when leaving Holy Redeemer parish at the end of June was to leave the key to our church and parish center on the kitchen counter of my rectory in Vancouver. One of the first things I did when I drove into St. Cecilia’s was to receive keys for access to the Church. Keys are an important and practical tool for the pastor, as they are for anyone responsible for a home or business. If you can’t get in, it’s a little tough to do your job. When I was a young priest there were some voices in theology and catechetics who wanted to down play the reality or significance of original sin. That is our Catholic teaching that because of the original rebellion of Adam and Eve, all of us are born with a separation from God that impairs our ability to make right judgments. I always noted that keys, the need to have keys for locking out and letting in, are a proof of the reality of original sin and its effects.
The practical need of keys is the basis for a rich symbolism attached to keys in our religious tradition. Our first reading from the book of Isaiah refers back to the 8th century before Jesus. The Lord announced to Shebna, Master of the palace, that he was going to lose his job. This was due to the wrong advice he was giving to the Jewish king. As Master of the palace he was a primary administrator on behalf of the king for all his rule not simply the palace. Among the signs of his authority were what was called the key of the House of David (that is the Jewish king and kingdom), that key, in Sheba’s case, was to be placed on someone else’s shoulder.
The Church intentionally matched this passage with today’s Gospel in which Jesus symbolically spoke of keys in designating St. Peter with a special responsibility in His Church. In fact the ancient Fathers of the Church saw the passage from Isaiah as a prophecy fulfilled in the action of Jesus. Jesus designated Peter as His prime minister for the management of His Church. It is a management of all that allows people access to God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven. A similar passage a couple of chapters later will acknowledge this power of Peter as being shared with the other apostles, Peter’s fellow leaders in the future Church.
The context of Jesus conferral of power upon Peter includes reference to the special grace, or revelation, that allowed Peter to make a firm profession of Faith in Jesus as the Christ, the anointed One, the Messiah. Further, Jesus affirmed the abiding presence of God’s power with His Church that will guarantee that the Church will persevere in its ongoing struggle with the evil one who seeks to prevent people from having access to the kingdom. He tempts them to resist a loving and faithful relationship with God in Jesus Christ. For nearly 2000 years the Church has been blessed with earthly leadership, a representative of Jesus the Church’s head, in the person of the successor of St. Peter. Joined with his fellow apostles, all the bishops of the world, he continues to manage access to the kingdom of God for us here on earth.
Traditionally, the concept of the “keys” in Catholic teaching, has especially noted sacrament of the forgiveness of sins which allows those who have stepped outside the kingdom to be let back in. But the keys of access to God’s kingdom are found in all that the Church does and teaches. The truth that scriptures tell us will make us free includes all the truths which the Church continues to teach us so that we may know the way to an authentic relationship with God, in Jesus Christ and all the actions that will help us and everyone around us to live in happiness.
The keys of access to the kingdom really includes all the sacraments of the Church. Baptism let us into God’s kingdom in the first place. Confirmation seals us so that the Holy Spirit may work in and through us to build up the kingdom. Holy Communion nourishes us so that we may continue to thrive in our relationship with Christ, to be strengthened against wandering out and away. As I mentioned, the sacrament of Penance allows us to re-enter when we have strayed, or it purifies our commitment to resisting the temptation to wander outside the kingdom.
The keys entrusted to Pope Francis and his fellow bishops open all the doors of learning and worship and grace in the Church. Perhaps the most vital of doors are the ones that are open each weekend (and every day in fact) to allow us to enter this church building. It is the door that allows us to enter into that doorway to heaven of a unique encounter with God. It is the encounter of joining in the great offering of Jesus to His Father in the Spirit. For the moments of our gathering here the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and we are gathered with all the saints and angels more closely assembled at God’s throne in heaven. The more effectively and persistently we gather at this heavenly threshold of the Mass, the more we are assured that one day we too can step beyond this threshold that is our worship at Mass, and kneel in adoration at the heavenly throne itself.
Pope Francis and all his co-workers throughout the Church can do all they can to thrust open the doors to fruitful encounters with God in Jesus Christ, but they, we can force no one to pass through those doors. Taking advantage of the open doors of learning, prayer, sacraments and worship does call for us to take a step or two, and many more, over and over again.