Authority and Its Source

In 13 Today's Church on 2017/05/05 at 12:00 AM


  • Today’s Gospel is one of the most important Gospel passages that we ever hear as Catholics.
  • In our Gospel today Jesus says to St. Peter: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
  • Since the earliest days of the Church, artwork depicting St. Peter has often included a depiction of him holding a set of keys – a reference to today’s Gospel.
  • The “keys to the kingdom of heaven” that our Lord speaks of today are a symbol of authority: St. Peter is to be the leader and head of the Church, and to him and the Church our Lord is entrusting an awesome spiritual authority: the authority to open or close the very gates of Heaven!
  • The keys of the kingdom of heaven are a symbol of salvation, and the authority to use them is held only by Holy Mother Church, who is the Body of Christ on earth, and by the Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ.
  • The Church, sensing the importance of this symbol of authority, has carried out this “key” theme in a couple of interesting ways. For example, St. Peter’s Square in front of the Basilica of St. Peter was designed to look like a keyhole.
  • And the word conclave, which is used to designate the meeting at which our popes are elected, literally means “with keys.”
  • Understanding the symbolism of the keys, we can say with confidence: “Nulla salus extra Ecclesiam”: “there is no salvation outside of the Church.”
  • For indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that: “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body” (CCC #846).
  • The Catechism goes on: “Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the [2nd Vatican] Council teaches that the Church…is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church….Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it” (CCC #846).
  • Yet, “This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church: Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience ‐ those too may achieve eternal salvation” (CCC #847).
  • The upshot, then, from today’s Gospel and these passages from the Catechism is that we cannot dismiss the Church as something extrinsic to our salvation, but that we must understand that our salvation comes to us through Her.
  • It is for this reason that we must take seriously the teachings of the Church, especially those concerning faith and morals, for they are not simply the teachings of Church leaders or the ruminations of theologians, but are rather the teachings of Christ Himself.
  • Our personal holiness is found in patterning our lives on the teachings of the Church, for by doing so we pattern our lives after Christ Himself!
  • We live in an age when individualism is extolled and promoted, and those who rebel against authority or established norms are often heralded as heroes.
  • As a priest I often see this rebellion against the Church come in the form of a pseudo‐ intellectualism in which people assert that they are more enlightened than the Church, and thus feel empowered to ignore whatever teachings they don’t like.
  • Recently, I had a conversation with a young lady I was preparing for marriage who said to me, “I can’t imagine that anyone could be expected to believe everything the Church teaches.”
  • Yet, that’s exactly what we, as members of the Catholic Church, are expected to believe: EVERYTHING, especially the Church’s teachings re: faith and morals.
  • And even more than believe, we are expected to form our consciences first and foremost by the teachings of the Church so that we live out these teachings in our daily life.
  • We are called to believe and conform our lives to the teaching of the Church not because Holy Mother Church is some dictator who demands absolute obedience.
  • To the contrary She is our Mother who patiently yet steadfastly points out for us the way to salvation, teaching us right from wrong, whether we like it or not.
  • As I learned so poignantly myself when I began converting to Catholicism 20 years ago, being obedient to the Church’s teaching requires a certain death to self, especially in a society like ours that in so many ways extols values that are blatantly anti‐Christian.
  • If we are going to be in full communion with Holy Mother Church so that we can benefit from the salvation that comes through her, we must be humble enough to obey her.
  • Yet our obedience to Holy Mother Church is not in any way blind. Enlightened by faithwe know that in submitting ourselves to the teachings of Mother Church, we are submitting ourselves to God the Father, Who first entrusted His Truth to the Church through the revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ.
  • While some may wonder why one should follow a teaching one doesn’t fully understand, it has been the experience of the saints that understanding of difficult Church teachings follows the act of obedience to that teaching.
  • Often the Holy Spirit will not enlighten our minds to the truth of a particular teaching we may struggle with until He sees that we are docile enough to accept it.
  • Thus, humility and docility are absolutely key to growing in a full understanding of Church teaching, as is faith in God and love and respect for Him and His Church.
  • As we consider the authority of the Church today, my brothers and sisters, is there a particular teaching of the Church that you struggle with? Perhaps it has to do with birth control, same‐sex unions, or the marriage laws of the Church, which seem to be the issues that wrinkle Catholics most these days.
  • Whatever the issue may be, as your pastor I implore you to ask yourself this question: Do I really know more than the Church, who is the Body of Christ and who was founded by Christ Himself, and whose teachings are safeguarded by the Holy Spirit? Do I really have more wisdom than 2000 years worth of saints?
  • The Catechism teaches that: “The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation” (#845). Therefore, no matter what disagreements you may have with the Church and Her teachings, strive to stay within Her loving embrace by being obedient to her, for that is where salvation is found.
  • If you’re struggling with a particular Church teaching, then make the attempt to live it out in your life, and over time our Lord will enlighten you to the truth of the matter.
  • If we selfishly seek to pick and choose which teachings we’re going to believe and follow in our lives, especially those that deal with serious moral issues like the ones I mentioned, then we damage our communion with the Church and endanger our salvation.
  • If we think the Church’s teachings are inconvenient, then I fear that we will find Hell really inconvenient if we callously and willfully choose to turn aside from the Church through disobedience.
  • Only the Church has been given the keys to the kingdom. Therefore, let us strive to be in full communion with Her – especially in difficult moral issues – and trust that in so doing, the gates of Heaven will be opened to us upon our death.



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