Note: Audio versions of homilies located here
I love what Jesus says in our Gospel today. He first asks who everyone else says he is. Then he says, “But who do YOU say that I am?” In other words, he is saying, “I want a personal relationship with you.” Then Peter answers and Jesus says, “Great! Now here is my church.” Basically, he says, “You want a relationship with me? Here is my church, my kingdom of love.” It is a heresey of our day that we think we can have Jesus without his Church. St. Joan of Arc said, “All I know is that Jesus and the Catholic Church are the same thing and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.” Jesus is our king, how could we ever hope to have a relationship without his kingdom? You can’t have the king without the kingdom!
But I want to talk about the keys. There’s a lot of jokes out there about St. Peter and his keys. The one I heard most recently was this. Bill Gates gets up to the Pearly Gates and he sees the big “Pearly Gates” sign. He says, “Well, what do you know, even stuff up here is named after me!” A lot of people think that St. Peter is sitting at the gate and when a person dies he has to pass a little exam and then Peter lets them in if they pass. There are a lot of jokes about St Peter and the keys. Those are jokes, not good theology. Peter does not judge us; Jesus Christ does. I really doubt there are any pearly gates and I am certain that it isn’t St Peter who decides who gets in.
The real meaning of the keys is this. I don’t know if you ever watch HGTV. You got six weeks and $30,000…here are the keys. They run into problems, this and that. Then the owners come back and they get their keys back. That’s the story in our first reading. The first reading is about the prime minister in the kingdom of David. When the king was gone, the prime minister ruled until the king returned. Like everything in the OT, it points to a reality Christ would bring about. In this case, it points to Peter and his keys. Jesus is the king, and until the second coming, he has entrusted his keys to the office of the papacy. He has given his keys to St Peter and the 265 popes that have followed him. Pope Francis 266th. That the pope has the keys means that the pope is the primary steward of the Church.
Now St. Peter in art is depicted with two keys: one silver and one gold. The silver keys represent the temporal things, the things of the earth. Frankly, the pope is in charge of a lot of earthly things. He runs a country. He oversees a lot of money, the earthly treasure. But the gold keys are a sign of the heavenly treasure, of which the pope is also the steward. The gold is the mysteries of the Lord, the dogma of the Church, things we believe are right and wrong—which do not and cannot change. The CCC opens with the line: “Guarding the deposit of faith is the mission which the Lord entrusted to his Church.”
So the pope is the primary steward of the earthly things and the temporal things. It is the same for bishops and dioceses and even priests and parishes. When I became the administrator of this parish, I got a letter assigned to watch out for the spiritual and temporal wellbeing of the parish. That’s why we have a finance committee. I systematically avoided…
But we have to take care of the physical, earthly things first. We see this with Jesus. People came to him because they were sick, hungry. Then he worked the miracle. Then he taught them the way to heaven. For us in the parish: if we can’t take care of the things of the world, how can we be trusted with the divine ministries? If the Church is not responsible with earthly things—if our buildings are falling down, the places are going to pot, the budget is unbalanced—how can we be trusted with the more precious things.
The same with parents: we know the most important thing a parent can do is give their child Jesus; in doing that you give them everything! Teach them about the faith, but you also have to clothe and feed them. If you mistreat the kids, how will they ever believe what you say?
And that’s the point: we all share in the stewardship that comes with the keys. We all share in the stewardship……not just the pope. We have a role to play in the taking care of things until Jesus returns. While we celebrate the papacy and its importance, it is true what Sr Joan writes in her column this weekend: in some ways, we all have the keys. God counts on all of us to take care of the physical and spiritual wellbeing of our families—that is, our domestic churches—and our parish church.
There is another meaning of the keys. It became real to me when I left Greenwood, which was an emotional thing as you can imagine. Msgr told me at our last lunch together, “Michael, keep your keys.” Which means, I think, that I am always welcome there. That we all have a share in the keys to the Kingdom Jesus came to build—which we call the Catholic Church—means that we are always welcome here, we always have a home here. Everyone! The doors to Mother Church are open wide, our job is to keep the place nice inside and then go get the world to walk in.