Friday, February 22, 2013

Unity in the Chair of Peter: One of the first articles I wrote as a Catholic

(Reposted from 2009--first run at One Bread in 2005)

I used to wonder why so many pages of the Old Testament were dedicated to the lineage of the Fathers of Israel. Why was it a good use of space – all those pages dedicated to tracking genealogy, all those lists of how this one begot that one? Even the New Testament starts out that way:

Here it is, folks. Before we tell you about the Messiah, let’s get the record straight. First there was Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Judah, and Perez, and Hezron and on and on. Then David, that’s right, King David. And Solomon, and on, and on. Fourteen generations from Abraham to David and fourteen from David to the Babylonian Exile, and fourteen more and there He is. Jesus, the Son of the Living God. God keeps His promise to Israel!

Doesn’t it seem like a waste of paper? Why not have a few more uplifting verses in there instead? Why not describe the early years of our Lord’s life instead of giving us the Family Tree?

And then it begins to make sense. The clear line of succession, the evidence of the Plan – all of it – every single human link to Christ matters.

Then Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem, dies on a cross, rises from the dead, and ascends into heaven. And the rest of Salvation History is one great muddle.

Or is it?

For a God who loves the details, shouldn’t there be a continuation of leadership? A new list of Fathers? Shouldn’t there be a new lineage, a clearly defined succession of holy men (and some not-so-holy individuals, too, just like the Old Testament lineage), and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself as the One to connect the Old and the New? If the Old Testament prepares for the Messiah’s birth by preserving the lineage, and the New Testament announces the Messiah’s birth by reviewing the lineage, what would logically come next?

Then, Jesus proclaims, “I say you are Peter and on this Rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Clearly, Jesus is declaring a new lineage. He’s specifically announcing the beginning of a list of those who will prepare for His return by preserving the message of Jesus Christ and passing it on to each generation.

Maybe you’ve never seen the list of Holy Fathers. If you’re like me, you didn’t know there is one. And if there is one, you’re not so sure you should care. But you should care. It proves that Jesus Christ cares about His Church. He breathed on Her, and carefully placed Her in the hands of Peter, and She grew.

Every generation has had Peter, this Vicar of Christ on earth. There could be no other way to preserve the Church. Our God is in the details. When they killed St. Peter, they did not kill the Church. Another took the Seat of Peter. And another and another.

And the list remains to this day.

Our Lord knew that the only way the Church could stay the course is if She had someone at the helm. And the only way to preserve Truth is if the Spirit of Truth leads that man. I will send you a Helper. The Holy Spirit, who will lead you into all Truth. Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven. Whatever you loose on earth is loosed in heaven. You are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

So many verses from my childhood came back to me and swirled around in my head, and when the dust settled, an image began to emerge.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would lead us into all Truth. How could I explain so many versions of truth, so many people claiming to have been inspired by the same Holy Spirit – but in total disagreement with each other? Either Jesus lied and the Holy Spirit never came – or it happened just as Jesus said it would. And someone was still holding the keys.

The Deposit of Truth is entrusted to the Seat of Peter, and it is preserved through a clear line of Apostolic Succession. The Holy Spirit guarantees it.

I found myself saying, of course it makes sense. It makes perfect sense.


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