Sunday, Aug. 27, is the 21st  Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A). Mass Readings: Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138:1-3, 6, 8; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20

What must the other apostles have thought when they heard what Jesus said in today’s Gospel: “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.”

They must have known about Isaiah 22, our first reading, which Jesus is citing: “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open.”

He is clearly conferring a high degree of authority on the fisherman. Says the Catechism, Peter’s “power to ‘bind and loose’ connotes the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgments, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church” (553).

But “[t]he homilist must show that [Scripture’s] language is meant to apply also to us,” says the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory. 

This is one reading the Church has very directly applied to us.

“[R]eligious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra,” says Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium (25).

The apostles didn’t have anything near that clarity in today’s Gospel. But they did face with Peter the challenge we face with Pope Francis: following a human leader of a supernatural Church.

Consider the parallels: Pope Francis is “obsessed with the devil,” complained CNN. But it was Peter who said, “Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Francis was criticized for comparing human behavior to animal behavior — dogs’ “coprophilia” and “coprophagia.” Peter also compared sin to how “[t]he dog returns to its own vomit,” and “A bathed sow returns to wallowing in the mire” (1 Peter 2:22).

Crowds loved Peter. In Acts 5:15, they line the streets “so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any of them.” They do the same today.

Francis wants to “accompany” sinners with love — and Peter said, “Love covers up a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

But Francis is harsh when it comes to economic sins. He said “the proud, rich and powerful will end up … plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude, which is hell.” Peter was similarly harsh. Of Simon the Magician, he said: “May your money perish with you” (Acts 8:20), and he condemned Ananias and Sapphira to death for economic sins (Acts 5:1-11).

St. Paul said he “opposed [Peter] to his face.” Today, cardinals have sought corrections, too.

Why did Jesus build the Church on Peter — and Francis? “How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!” says our second reading.

Indeed! But that’s what he did. Our job is to trust. And follow.

Tom Hoopes is writer

in residence at

Benedictine College and

author of The Fatima

Family Handbook.