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Church remains ‘strong as a rock’

Based on the Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20

“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks his disciples. Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

The Holy Spirit inspired Peter’s response as to Jesus’ true identity. In blessing, Jesus says, “And so 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.”

Now Peter was not the most intelligent, the strongest or the most courageous of the disciples. In fact, he would later deny knowing Jesus three times. But because of Peter’s strong faith, Jesus calls Peter “the rock” and chooses him to be the leader of the 12 apostles and organizational head of the church community. Jesus gives him the “keys of the kingdom,” a powerful sign of authority. Jesus wants Peter to govern the church and, with the other apostles, to carry on his work of teaching, baptizing, forgiving sins and healing in his name. Jesus promises that nothing will stop his church.

Peter became the first pope, and the apostles, the first bishops of the church. After Jesus’ death, Resurrection and Ascension, Peter used his Holy Spirit-inspired gifts of faith and leadership to guide the apostles and other disciples in the early church. It wasn’t always easy for Peter and the apostles as they taught people about Jesus. Many times they were put in prison, beaten or stoned. But remembering Jesus’ promise, their faith stayed “strong as a rock.” Ultimately, their love for Jesus and their zeal and faithfulness in carrying on Jesus’ mission resulted in almost all of them being martyred for the faith.

Since the time of Jesus and the apostles, the church continues to grow. The history of the church proves it. Throughout the centuries, despite the wars, heresies, slander and scandals that have tried to destroy her, the church still stands in defense of human freedom and the love and truth of Jesus Christ. The church remains “strong as a rock.” Jesus’ promise continues, “I will be with you always.”

Pope Benedict XVI is the 265th pope and 264th successor to St. Peter. Our bishops are the successors to the apostles. With the help of priests, deacons, religious brothers, women religious and laity, they continue Jesus’ work of teaching, celebrating the Eucharist and guiding their churches as pastors, including care for the entire church with and under the leadership of the pope. The church Jesus built is called the Body of Christ. As members of the Body of Christ, we should pray for Pope Benedict XVI and all those who help us to grow in our faith and service to the church.