“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” (Mt 16: 18). What exactly was the Lord saying to Peter with these words? With them, what promise did He make and what task did He entrust to him? And what is He saying to us – to the Bishop of Rome, who is seated on the Chair of Peter, and to the Church today?
If we want to understand the meaning of Jesus’ words, it is useful to remember that the Gospels recount for us three different situations in which the Lord, each time in a special way, transmits to Peter his future task. […]
Cross and glory: inseparable realities
[In the Gospel according to St. Matthew] the promise is made at the sources of the Jordan, on the boundary of the Judaic Land, on the frontiers of the pagan world. The moment of the promise marks a crucial turning-point in Jesus’ journey: the Lord now sets out for Jerusalem and for the first time, He tells the disciples that this journey to the Holy City is the journey to the Cross: “From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:21).
Both these things go together and determine the inner place of the Primacy, indeed, of the Church in general: the Lord is continuously on His way towards the Cross, towards the lowliness of the servant of God, suffering and killed, but at the same time He is also on the way to the immensity of the world in which He precedes us as the Risen One, so that the light of His words and the presence of His love may shine forth in the world; He is on the way so that through Him, the Crucified and Risen Christ, God himself, may arrive in the world. In this regard, Peter describes himself in his First Letter as “a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed” (1 Pt 5:1).
Christ is victorious in the suffering Church
For the Church, Good Friday and Easter have always existed together; she is always both the mustard seed and the tree in whose boughs the birds of the air make their nests. The Church – and in her, Christ – still suffers today. In her, Christ is again and again mocked and struck; again and again an effort is made to reject Him from the world. Again and again the little barque of the Church is ripped apart by the winds of ideologies, whose waters seep into her and seem to condemn her to sink.
Yet, precisely in the suffering Church, Christ is victorious. In spite of all, faith in Him recovers ever new strength. The Lord also commands the waters today and shows that He is the Lord of the elements. He stays in His barque, in the little boat of the Church. Thus, on the one hand, the weakness proper to human beings is revealed in Peter’s ministry, but at the same time, also God’s power: in the weakness of human beings itself the Lord shows His strength; He demonstrates that it is through frail human beings that He himself builds His Church.
Jesus’ prayer is the protection of the Church
Let us now turn to the Gospel according to St. Luke, which tells us that during the Last Supper, the Lord once again confers a special task upon Peter (cf. Lk 22:31-33). This time, the Lord’s words addressed to Simon are found immediately after the Institution of the Most Blessed Eucharist. […] He says that Satan has demanded to have him so that he may sift him like wheat. This calls to mind the passage in the Book of Job, where Satan asks God for the power to afflict Job. […]
And this also happens with Jesus’ disciples. God gives a certain liberty to Satan in all times. To us it oftentimes seems that God allows Satan too much freedom, that He grants him the power to distress us too terribly; and that this gets the better of our forces and oppresses us too heavily.
Again and again we cry out to God: “Alas, look at the misery of your disciples! Ah, protect us!” In fact, Jesus continues: “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Lk 22:32). Jesus’ prayer is the limit set upon the power of the devil. Jesus’ prayer is the protection of the Church.
“Peter, I have prayed for you!”
We can seek refuge under this protection, cling on to it and be safe. But – as He says in the Gospel – Jesus prays in a particular way for Peter: “… that your faith may not fail.” Jesus’ prayer is at the same time a promise and a duty. Jesus’ prayer safeguards Peter’s faith, that faith which he confessed at Caesarea Philippi: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16).
And so, never let this faith be silenced; strengthen it over and over again, even in the face of the cross and all the world’s contradictions: this is Peter’s task. Therefore, the point is that the Lord does not only pray for Peter’s personal faith, but for his faith as a service to others. This is exactly what He means with the words: “When you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:32).
“When you have turned again”: these words are at the same time a prophecy and a promise. They prophesy the weakness of Simon, who was to deny to a maid and a servant that he knew Christ. […]
“When you have turned again”: the Lord, who predicted his fall, also promises him conversion: “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter…” (Lk 22:61). Jesus’ look works the transformation of Peter, and becomes his salvation: “he went out and wept bitterly” (Lk 22:62). […]
Truth is stronger than death
The third reference to the Primacy is found in the Gospel according to St. John (21:15-19). The Lord is risen, and as the Risen One He entrusts His flock to Peter. Here too, the Cross and the Resurrection are interconnected. Jesus predicts to Peter that he is to take the way of the Cross. In this Basilica built over the tomb of Peter – a tomb of the poor – we see that in this very way the Lord, through the Cross, is always victorious.
His power is not a power according to the ways of this world. It is the power of goodness: of truth and of love, which is stronger than death. Yes, His promise is true: the powers of death, the gates of hell, will not prevail against the Church which He built on Peter (cf. Mt 16:18). ◊
Excerpts from: BENEDICT XVI.