21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

There were once three umpires.

The first said, “I call them as they are!”

The second said, “I call them as I see ‘em!”

The third said, “They ain’t nothin’ till I call ‘em!”

In the gospel passage for this Sunday, Saint Matthew delivers the account of Saint Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Peter’s ability to proclaim and confirm the truth about the authentic identity of our Lord is not the result of merely human efforts whether they be: study, discussion, or guesswork. Christ clarifies for all present that it is a special charism, a gift, given to Peter by God the heavenly Father that allows Peter to make these claims. The Divine Plan for Peter and Peter’s unique role in the College of Apostles is subsequently confirmed by Christ. Peter is given a new name: Peter i.e. Rock, reflecting his fundamental role in the Church and to him is entrusted a special mission i.e. the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.

One of the aspects that is frequently misunderstood about the ministry of the pope as the successor of Peter is the dogma of Papal Infallibility. For many, this dogma is like the position of the second and third umpires. Papal Infallibility is an arbitrary and positivistic imposition of a pope’s opinion on the entire Church. However, the charism of Papal Infallibility is rather like that of the first umpire: merely to state clearly for all those present what the facts are. To be clear, popes have only exercised this extraordinary gift on rare occasions. The two most clear instances occurred when the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception (1854) and the Assumption of Mary (1950) were declared. The purpose for this gift, like all the gifts by which Christ adorns his Church, is destined to one end: the salvation of souls. The clarity and infallibility with which the Church speaks is directed towards the mission of Christ: the defeat of the gates of Hell and the rescue of humanity from sin and death. Like a good umpire, Peter and his successors are empowered at particular moments to “make the right call,” cooperating with Divine governance of the Church so that we, like Peter, might come to an authentic and secure act of faith. Umpires are fallible, but when the successor of Peter teaches with regard to faith and morals, with recourse to the authority given to him by Christ, and that this teaching is to be held definitely by the entire Church, such teaching is free from error; it’s always true.

Fr. Richard Hinkley