A guy appeared at the Pearly Gates and Saint Peter said to him, "Nice jacket.
But you won’t need it where you’re going."
There are lots of stories about Peter guarding heaven’s gates, indicating
that he has a special place in Christ’s kingdom. That comes from today’s Gospel,
where Jesus does more than make Peter a gatekeeper. He says: "You are Peter, and
upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld will not
prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever
you bind on earth will be bound in heaven."
The apostles who heard these words would have remembered the Kingdom of
David, where there was an official, the master of the palace, the keeper of the
keys, second to the king. Jesus was making Peter his master of the palace. Jesus
wanted his Church to endure, and so made Peter and his successors, the popes,
his second in command until the end of time.
Jesus promises that the gates of the netherworld will not prevail. This
doesn’t mean that popes can’t sin. Peter sinned when he denied Christ, and some
popes have sinned grievously. But it does mean that Peter and his successors
will not mislead the Church in matters necessary for salvation. The Father
revealed to Peter the identity of Jesus, and the Father has guided the popes so
that the gates of hell would not prevail. This guidance is called the gift of
infallibility. It means that under certain conditions, when the pope as leader
of the Church intends to teach infallibly and proclaims a matter of faith
essential for salvation, he is kept from error. The pope doesn’t create
something new. When he defines a doctrine, as Pius XII did for the dogma of the
Assumption in 1950, he declares what the Church has always believed.
The papacy is one more way Jesus leads his Church. Through the visible sign
of the papacy, Jesus calls his Church to truth, unity, and love. Peter and the
popes don’t just guard the Pearly Gates. They are the Rock on which Christ built
his Church, and we thank God that the gates of hell will not prevail.