Spiritual Realities of the Papacy & the Priesthood

When two of her sons told her they were being called by God to the priesthood my Grandma Schmidt went back to work at nights as a licensed nurse to help pay for their seminary formation. 

My Uncles Carl and Anthony were ordained priests on the same day in 1950.  When asked who, out of all their philosophy and theology professors had the most influence on them, they answered, “Without a doubt, our mother.”  Though my grandma was not the most educated woman she was very wise.  She had a way of explaining the truths of the faith that just made sense.

When another one of her sons, my Uncle Larry, hitch-hiking home after World War II was in a horrible car wreck and should have died, Grandma made a vow to God that she would not eat meat on Wednesdays or Fridays – for the rest of her life.  And she also vowed to pray the Rosary every day if her son lived.  He did live.  And Grandma Schmidt carried out her vow until the day she died, on April 4, 1999, at the age of 99. 

She died in peace directly after having Holy Communion placed on her tongue.  What a way to pass out of this world – with the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ substantially inside her.  April 4, 1999 was Easter Sunday.

Another wise woman who knew how to explain the faith died on Easter Sunday, 2016.  Her name was Rita Rizzo.  She was a nun; her professed name being Mary Angelica of the Annunciation.  The world knew her as Mother Angelica, the woman who founded Eternal Word Television Network, EWTN – the largest Catholic network in the world, which reaches over 264 million homes in 144 different countries.

A funny woman, Mother Angelica once asked on her TV show: “Did you ever notice that when the Apostles went fishing, they never caught anything?”  Mother had a point. The Apostles always seemed a little lost and hapless until Christ showed up.

In Chapter 20 of John’s Gospel, Christ showed up and gave us the sacrament of Confession. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained.”  In the next passage, from Chapter 21 Christ gave us the papacy.  Notice in the passage how Christ zeroes in on Peter and not the group.  The papacy, the primacy of Peter, like Confession comes from Christ.  Scripture is most clear on this. 

Christ does nothing without a reason. Think about it:  All bodies have heads.  Peter was chosen to be the head of the Body of Christ on earth.   Christ is the invisible head, the pope is the visible head.  Christ only has one Body, so He can have only one head, which of course is the most important part of the body.  An appendage, an arm or a leg can be chopped off and the body will still contain the unity of life because that’s controlled from the head.  Christ gave us Peter as a visible sign of the unity of life of the Church.  The office of Peter is the way to keep all the fish in the one net without tearing it. 

St. Peter was very human and therefore very relatable.  At the Last Supper when Christ said one of them would betray him, the tough talking Peter told Christ he would die before he would let that happen.  A few hours later while warming himself at a charcoal fire Peter got scared by a girl.  And then he denied, not once but three times that he even knew who Christ was.

After the third denial, the cock crowed, right on que, and Christ and Peter made eye contact.  Christ burned a hole right through Peter’s soul and Peter, utterly crushed, his heart broken, could do nothing but run off and cry.  A grown man balling away.  That’s a painful sight.  As I preached on Good Friday, tradition says Peter’s face after this night was marked with crevices, deep furrows from the raging river of tears that gushed down his cheeks after he denied his Master.

In this passage, Peter was sitting at another charcoal fire.  And once again Christ was staring at him.  He asked him, “Do you love me?”  He asked him not once, but three times.  The triple confession had to make up for the triple denial.  And after the third round a distressed Peter broke down:  “You know I love you.”  Broken is where Christ wanted him.  It was only then that Christ said, “Okay.  Time to stop fishing and follow me.”

Scholars like to speculate that John would have been a better pope because he was such a wonderful theologian.  Or Paul, the Pharisee, who had great knowledge.  But Peter?  Who made him pope? Well, Christ did.  He took the impetuous, head-strong fisherman and broke him so that he could mold him into His own leader.  Christ needed Peter the rock to be pliable enough so Peter could stretch out his arms on his own cross; the cross he would die on for following Christ. 

Notice the transformation in Peter after this session on the beach.  In another reading Luke writes:  “Peter and the Apostles …” Peter, because he’s the leader, the point man, the source of unity.  Peter is always first.  The Apostles boldly told the Jewish leaders (who wanted to kill them) that they had to obey God rather than men; they had to follow Christ and not the world.  For their trouble they were beaten and flogged.  And afterwards they rejoiced for suffering dishonor for Christ.

Peter, with all his weaknesses and failings, gives the rest of us hope.  Christ broke him down in order to build him up.  My friends, Christ has to break us down.  Not once, but three times at Holy Mass that we say we are sorry:  Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa (my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.)   And as we do so we can feel Christ staring at us. 

After the sermon, bread and wine are brought to the altar of sacrifice in the Offertory Rite.  The bread and wine represent us. The grain of wheat is ripped off the stalk and ground down, crushed in the mill.  The grape is crushed, smashed down in the wine press.  The wheat and grapes are broken down, they die before being offered to God.  And we have to die.  We have to die to ourselves and the world before placing our offering, which is ourselves on the altar.

After our offering, Christ, through the ministerial priesthood He started on Holy Thursday feeds His sheep.  As you say, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof …”  you can feel the Lamb of God staring at you, burning a hole in your soul. 

But then you can hear Him say, “It’s okay.  This is my broken heart, my Body and Blood given for you.” 

As you approach for this holy exchange, where you give Christ your heart and He gives you His, listen to Him ask you: “Do you love me?”  Answer Him, “Yes, you know I love you.  I’ll obey you before men, and gladly suffer dishonor for you.”  And Christ will say, “Okay, then.  Follow me.”



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