Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it – not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away.
When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
The early Christians in Rome memorialised the day when Simon Peter held his first service with the faithful in the capital city, under the title "Cathedra Petri" (the Chair of Peter in Rome). By the ninth century this feast was assigned to 22nd February, and its celebration was held in two places, in the Vatican Basilica and in a cemetery on the Via Salaria. In both places a chair (cathedra) was venerated, in memory of when the Apostle was presiding at the faith assembly in Rome.
Of course, the report in Matthew chapter 16 can be, and has often been, misused as a Gospel justification for inflated claims to worldwide jurisdiction and absolute monarchy, concepts far removed from the mind of Christ and indeed from that of Peter himself, as seen in the first reading, where Peter sees himself as "sym-presbyteros" a fellow-elder, and clearly prefers the role of assistant to Christ the chief shepherd, over that of lawgiver, oracle or pontiff. As illustrated in the papal style of pope Francis, the Matthean texts about Peter must be read in context of many other texts in our Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, to get a rounded picture of the kind of ministry exercised and passed on by St Peter.
Today's feast links the origins of papacy to the apostolic ministry of the successor of St Peter as visible head of our worldwide Catholic Church. It invites us to pray for divine guidance on our present pope and on the Church of God, that we may be led into a new era of hopeful, life-affirming Catholicism by a fraternal papal ministry mirroring the beautiful ideal expressed by St Peter himself.