22 February 2006

St. Peter's Chair (and his toes)

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. We honor him to whom the Lord entrusted the power to loose and to bind. The picture to the left is the foot of his statue in the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. For centuries, pilgrims have passed the statue and rubbed his right foot, praying for mercy when they approach him at the pearly gates. It may seem odd to celebrate a "chair" but a thoughtful look at St. Peter would give us reason to be filled with hope.

St. Peter was a fisherman by trade. He was among the first disciples called by the Lord. He was trusted by the Lord and he was named the "rock" on which the Church is built. His track record in the Gospels, however, is a little spotty: he got the message that Jesus is the Messiah, but he did not get the message about Jesus being a suffering Messiah. He wanted to defend Jesus and protect him from suffering but, as the Lord predicted, he denied him the night he was arrested. St. Peter's humanity is tangible and encouraging.

St. Peter is a great sign of hope for all of us. The Lord called him; the Lord knew him -- his strengths as well as his weaknesses -- and the Lord used him for great things. The Lord knows each of us. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And he will use us for his own good purpose if we let him. He calls us despite our weaknesses and shortcomings and he gives us the grace we need to persevere -- if we ask.

The "foot" of St. Peter (toes worn away by the hands of pilgrims) is a beautiful symbol of this hope. Rubbing his foot reminds us that it was Peter--in yet another moment of not understanding the Lord's message--who did not want the Lord to wash his feet. And for centuries, pilgrims have touched the symbolic foot of this intrepid disciple--as much as sign of hope as of devotion. As we celebrate this Feast today, let us pray for greater unity in the Church and for an abundance of blessings for the successor of St. Peter, Pope Benedict XVI.

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