Saturday, February 22, 2014

What's so important about a chair?

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. A Feast is the second highest celebration in our calendar; the only days that are more important are the solemnities.

From a purely physical level there is the beautiful Bernini bronze sculpture of the Chair in St. Peter's basilica, said to hold a relic of the actual chair. Whether it does or not is irrelevant to the feast. What is relevant is what the architecture and inscription around the dome symbolize, the unity of the Church.

A Bishop is said to have three offices or duties: teaching, sanctifying, and governing. No matter now far back you go teaching was always listed first. And the Chair is the symbol of that teaching office, not as some would tell you a throne for like that of an emperor.

You can trace back the modern university practice of having named "chairs" to the same roots. When a distinguished professor is named to the so-and-so chair of whatever subject, she is not given an actual piece of furniture, nor does she now rule over the rest of the faculty from her newly acquired throne. The university is acknowledging a particular excellence in her teaching.

So today the Church turns our attention to the Apostle who was entrusted with leading the others in spreading the Good News. By extension we also recall all of those who have succeeded Peter down to our own Pope Francis.

Some in the Church deride his teaching style because his language is, in their minds, not sufficiently elevated. They forget that to teach you have to communicate, to communicate you have to use a language that is understood by the hearer. Secondly, we should keep in mind that the primary mode of teaching is not with words but with our example.

While none of us hold a chair in anything, nor do we teach with any particular authority, we do all teach by our example. Children look to us, and learn. Non-Catholics will look at us, and learn what it means to be Catholic. Non-Christians learn what it means to be Christian. And we hopefully remind one another.

Today let us pray for Pope Francis, your own local bishop, even your own local pastor who will tonight and tomorrow carry out their teaching office, in a particular way.

St. Peter probably had very little education, whether he could even read or write is of question. But today we celebrate him as first among the great teachers of the faith.

If you stand in St. Peter's and look up at the Great Chair, you see the famous verse "you are Peter..." written in one side in Greek and the other in Latin, representing East and West, the spreading of the teaching to the whole world.

Let us pray that as St. Peter looks down on us from his place in heaven, he may also intercede for us, that we may listen more attentively to the teaching, and put it more fully into action.