February 22: Chair of St Peter (Mt 16:13-19)




            Jesus, like the Rabbis, spoke most authoritatively when he "sat down to teach" (cf. Matt 5, 2). Hence, the seat or chair is the symbol of authority, teaching and leadership. Today, on the feast of St Peter's Chair, we celebrate Peter's leadership.


            In the gospel (Matt 16, 13-19), Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do you say I am?" Peter takes the lead and answers, "You are the one chosen by God to lead and save his people." Jesus replies, "You are the Rock, and I will build my chosen people on you." He appoints Peter as leader.


            The Letter to the Hebrews (2, 10) says of Jesus, "It was appropriate that God ... should make perfect through suffering the leader who would take them to their salvation." Jesus said the same about Peter (Jn 21, 18), "When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go." So it was when Peter, out on the old Via Appia, turned back and faced his death in Nero's Circus.


            It is clear from Peter's first letter (5, 1-4), that he had learnt the true meaning of leadership, when he advises, "Be examples to the flock, not lording it over those assigned to you." We are celebrating the leadership he gave by his example as well as by his teaching.


            Not only our appointed Superiors are called to exercise leadership. All our brothers and sisters in the faith, and indeed all others as well, have been entrusted to each of us. We are all called to be leaders.


            We are leaders when our way of life sets the proper standard for others, not as perfect creatures but as penitents. We are then a credible sign that God is calling, reconciling and saving his people. As Christians, we show the spirit of Jesus the servant to all, especially to those who are trying to live their Christian vocation. As religious, we try to embody the ideal and the practice of a consecrated follower of Jesus Christ. As Franciscans, we live prayerfully in poverty and minority as integral members of the fraternity, while always tending towards conversion.


            Peter learnt his best lesson in leadership after he had denied even knowing Jesus. According to Luke (22, 61-62), "At that instant, the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter ... And he went outside and wept bitterly."


            St Francis exercised genuine leadership and bequeathed it to his Franciscan family. He wrote to a provincial Minister, "There should be no member of the fraternity who has fallen into sin, no matter how far he has fallen, who will ever fail to find your forgiveness for the asking, if he will only look into your eyes."