Today I spoke to the MOPS group at St. Monica's parish in the Milwaukee area. MOPS stands for "Mothers of Pre-Schoolers" and about 17 young women who meet every month gathered for a presentation that was designed to help the group to understand the Church better and to see how Rome connects to their daily lives. The timing was perfect because today is the feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
The role of a mother is critical for society. Mothers are the first educators of their children. Some of the first words they teach their children include lessons about how to relate to others: "please" and "thank you" and "share with your brothers and sisters." All of these contain a standard of right and wrong. They are part of the first moral training of a child.
We live in what some have called an "age of relativism." "You have your truth and I have mine." The words of Pilate during his interrogation of Jesus are words that are commonly repeated today: "What is truth?" Once having agreed that there is an objective truth with objective values that tell us what is right and what is wrong, we naturally ask, "How do we know the truth? How do we know the truth about God and about ourselves, our human nature? How are we to know the truth about how we are to live?"
Many Christians will say that the Bible is "the pillar and foundation of the truth." That is where we are to go to find the answers. Yet this doesn't help us because there are so many different and conflicting ways of interpreting various Bible passages. And the Bible itself never states that it is "the pillar and foundation of the truth." What does the Bible say about this? St. Paul, in his First Letter to Timothy 3:15 is very clear. He tells Timothy that if he is delayed in visiting, he "should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth." If we want to know the truth, we go to the Church.
Jesus said much the same thing when, at the Last Supper, He told the apostles that He was "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14: 6). Jesus is not dead and gone. He is alive and present in the Church which is His Body. He is the vine and we are the branches (see John 15: 5). He is the Head and we, the baptized, are members of His Body. So Jesus, Truth itself, is in the Church and has sent the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth through the Church. Jesus also said at the Last Supper: "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth" (John 16: 12-13).
Today we celebrate the "Chair of St. Peter," not a piece of furniture but the authority to teach the truth. Jesus gave this authority to Peter, according to Matthew 16: 18-19, when Jesus told Peter: "I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." Then, again at the Last Supper, after Jesus celebrated the New Passover and predicted His betrayal and his disciples started arguing about which of them was the greatest, Jesus taught them that the greatest among them was the servant of all. Then he told Simon Peter that "Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers" (Luke 31-32). Clearly the power that will be at work in Peter won't be a human power, but divine. The power is one of loving service. St. Peter and his successors are to be the servants of the servants of God, teaching the truth with love and ensuring unity among the faithful.
Our family or Church history shows that this power is divine and not human. We've had schisms in which there were three popes at the same time. We've had a time when the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, lived in Avignon, France, and St. Catherine of Siena had to confront the one whom she called "Sweet Christ on earth" and tell him the Lord wanted him to return to Rome. This checkered history notwithstanding, "the netherworld," the forces of darkness and evil, have not prevailed against the Church built upon St. Peter and his successors. If we want to know the truth, we need to stay close to the Chair of St. Peter. We should go to the source for information about Church teaching. Don't trust what is written in the secular media but first go to the Vatican web site and read the Pope's words for yourself. Stay close to the Chair.
Besides providing true teaching, Rome also comes to the home by expanding our horizons. Our age tends to be very individualistic. We think in terms of ourselves, our parish, our diocese, and we are challenged to see that we are part of a worldwide family of God.
When St. Ignatius Loyola and his first followers decided to stay together as a new religious community, they went to the Pope to ask him where they should serve. They went to the one who had the big picture, who could see the needs of the universal Church.
When I give parish missions and visit the grade schools, I ask the children if they ever pray for others. After eliciting some of their prayer concerns, I ask if they ever pray for their pastor or their bishop. I tell them that at every Mass we mention the bishop by name in our prayers and we also mention the Pope. Then I ask them: "If the Pope asked you to pray for something, would you?" The answer is always a resounding "YES" at which point I tell them that every month the Pope has two particular prayer intentions for which he wants us to pray.
This is the work of the Apostleship of Prayer--to publicize these monthly intentions and to help people pray for them. From our beginnings in 1844, this prayer was not only of the mind, but also of our hearts and bodies. By means of the Morning Offering, we take each moment of the day--each thought and activity--and make of it a prayerful offering for the work of the Church and in particular for the Pope's monthly intentions. In that way, every moment of our days becomes part of the great work of evangelization and salvation. This is what St. Therese, whom many know as the Little Flower and who enrolled in the Apostleship when she was twelve, did. With the Morning Offering and prayer for the Pope's monthly intentions, we realize that we are not alone or isolated. We are part of a worldwide prayer community that's been estimated to number at least 50 million people. We pray for the Pope and for one another with each Morning Offering and we try to consciously live that offering during the day and then review it in the evening.
Rome to Home. The Pope teaches us the truth that we then share with our children. Home to Rome. We offer ourselves, our days, and our prayers for the Holy Father who shares with us his concerns through the monthly intentions.