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Chair of Peter, Apostle
I think it’s about time you took a pilgrimage to Rome. It would serve as an effective antidote to the imprudent and arrogant forces at work on campus, the ones that are slowly seducing you away from the world’s only divinely guaranteed guide to life on earth, the papacy.
In Rome, you would be able to make a visit to the Basilica of St Peter – the biggest Church in the world (186 meters long), and the centerpiece of Vatican City. Upon entering, you would notice immediately that there is only one colored window in the entire, massive structure. It’s right in the middle of the very back wall. It looks like a golden oval, especially if you happen to visit in the afternoon, when the setting sun is shining right behind it. At that hour it fills the entire basilica with a warm, mysterious, glowing, amber luminosity. In the middle of the oval is depicted a dove, spreading its wings as if about to alight on an ornate bronze throne suspended right beneath the window. The throne is only a sculpture – nobody sits in it. But its hollow base used to contain a little wooden and ivory seat purported to be one of the chairs that St Peter himself used to use during his liturgies back in the first century. Thus, the sculpture hearkens back to the start of that unbroken line of popes that has been the source of Church unity ever since Christ decided to ascend back into heaven.
The great insight of this particular work of art (the window, and the throne, and the other brilliant sculptures that surround them to form a breathtaking and inspiring ensemble) comes not from the obvious symbolism of the throne, which represents the authority of St Peter and his successors in the papacy, who have been entrusted with the role of being Christ’s Vicar on Earth. Rather, it comes from how it depicts the relationship between that authority and the Holy Spirit. What captures the attention of the visitor is not the throne, but the window. The window gives the light, and the warmth, and the beauty to the structure. Remove it and you would be left with a cold bronze decoration.
Just so, we Catholics reverence and obey the Pope not simply because he’s a really smart guy, or really nice, or cute, or powerful, but because he is God’s chosen instrument for guiding the Church (and that includes you and me and all of Christ’s believers). Jesus could have chosen to rule his Church in some other way, but he chose to use the pope and the bishops, and he guaranteed that those who follow the pope will not be led astray. It’s the only such guarantee God has ever made: “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock [“peter” means “rock” in Greek] I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
So great a gift is the office of Peter that the Church has dedicated a feast (today’s) to it since at least as far back as the fourth century, soon after the end of the Roman persecutions. Not only did this feast help the newly converted pagans give up their old practices of ancestor worship that were associated with this particular time of the year, but it also afforded them (and still affords us) an opportunity to renew our adherence to the visible head of the Church on earth, to thank God for giving us so marvelous a blessing, and to offer our prayers on behalf of the current pontiff – who doesn’t cease being human (and therefore in need of our prayers) upon donning the tiara (i.e. the papal crown).
Take a pilgrimage to Rome, my dear niece, and bolster your faith. It’s the last thing the devil would want you to do, so it’s surely a fine idea.
Your worried uncle,