“Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages, and your dominion endures through all generations.” Jesus founded a visible community of believers and appointed shepherds to share in His own ministry, so that all people might be united in a community of love.
The Church is a city built on a hill. She is the New Jerusalem, coming down from Heaven and already piercing into the world. She is a lamp put on a lamp stand, not under a basket. The Church is a visible kingdom and every kingdom has structure to it. Leaders need to watch over it, to nurture it, and to keep it unified, so the Church also has a visible structure founded by Jesus Christ, not by mankind. The building of this structure begins with the call of the disciples. Jesus gathers a family around Himself to be a father to them. He teaches them the hidden things of God, a new way of life, and how to carry out His mission. The structures of the Church (laity, ordained ministry, and religious life) find their roots in the call of Jesus, not in the prudence of human beings. Here, we only have time to look at the establishment of ordained ministry.
After Simon’s confession of faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, Jesus renames him Peter which means rock, saying, “and so 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” (Matt 16:18). About this two things need to be observed. First, Peter becomes the very foundation of the Church, but how can this be if elsewhere Scripture says that Jesus is the Church’s one foundation (1 Cor 3:11)? The problem dissolves if we understand Peter as participating in the foundation of Christ. Peter’s authority is not his own, but is derived from the authority of Jesus, which is given as a gift so that the Church will always be governed in Jesus’ name. This is why the Pope, the successor of Peter is called the Vicar of Christ. A vicar does not act in his own power, but through the power given to him by someone else. Jesus shares his own power with Peter.
The second observation which needs to be made is that Jesus promises that the gates of the netherworld will never prevail over the Church founded on Peter. The new city of God will never pass away. Her faith has not been conquered or corrupted, but she remains Jesus’ faithful bride adorned for her husband. In this world, she is tarnished by the sin of her members, but she always presses forward proclaiming that the LORD is gracious and merciful.
What was given to Peter was also given to all the apostles together. The letter to the Ephesian says, “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone” (Eph 2:19-20). The Apostles are the foundation of God’s household, his family, the Church. Jesus is given the unique role of the capstone because he is the first stone laid and his placement guides the placement of all other stones. The whole order of Apostles also share in Christ’s power.
This authority has been handed down through the sacrament of ordination. In the reading from acts today, Paul, an apostle of Jesus, appointed elders … in each church. This is the beginning of what Catholics call apostolic succession. All of the bishops of the Church are appointed by other bishops all the way back through time until the Apostles. In the creed, we acknowledge the Church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, which is a profession of faith in the succession of apostolic authority in the Church.
Any visible kingdom needs a law, and before Jesus entered into glory, Jesus gave us a law by which all the earth will recognize us as His disciples. He says, I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is the supreme law of the Church which governs her every member, from the Pope down to the newly baptized. This is the law which every bishop and every pastor is called to enforce. The hierarchy of the Church exists to build up the people of God in love. Therefore, we must open ourselves to being built up in love, humbly following instruction. If we need to correct our leaders, it must be done out of humility and love. Only by following the shepherds given to us by Christ will the New Jerusalem emerge prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.