My dear friends,
There is a popular tale associated with the Dominican Republic which features a king who got it into his head that he would like to touch the moon. “Why not,” he said, “I am king. What I want, I get. I want to touch the moon.” So he summoned the best carpenters in the land and commissioned them to build a tower tall enough to reach the moon.
The chief carpenter tried to reason with him but the king was adamant, “I want to touch the moon!” After much discussion with the crew, the chief carpenter told the king he had a plan. To put the plan into action he said he needed every box in the kingdom. “Let that be done, then,” said the king. People gathered boxes of every shape and size. The chief carpenter ordered all the boxes to be piled one on top of the other. When all was done, sadly, the tower was not high enough to reach the moon.
So the king issued another decree. All the trees on the island were to be chopped down and fashioned into boxes. When they were all stacked up on the original tower, the chief carpenter offered to make the first climb, just to be on the safe side. “This was my idea,” barked the king, “the honour belongs to me.” So the king began the climb and went higher and higher until he had left the birds below and had broken through the clouds.
At the very top, he stretched out his hand to touch the moon but it was still a short distance away. “One more box”, he shouted down. “We don’t have any more” yelled the chief carpenter “You will have to come down.” “I will not”, shouted the king, and he stamped his feet so hard that the tower almost fell. “Listen,” he said, “I know what to do. Take the box from the bottom and bring it to the top.” With no more choice, except to obey the king’s orders, the carpenters pulled out the bottom box. You are all pretty clever and I take it you don’t need to be told what happened next.
If we can believe what we are told and what we read, there have been many places in our world where dictators, kings or despots were in control. Having climbed to a place of power, these often unworthy rulers have satisfied their own whims; some have become fabulously wealthy on the back of their subjects and many have established oppressive regimes to ensure that they could hold onto power and enrich themselves and their families. In doing this, these rulers in many instances have done away with the moral code they were meant to preserve and destroyed the peace and justice they were entrusted to uphold.
Sadly, these mistakes and evils are not just something that belongs to the civil realm and the field of politics. There have been religious leaders of all colours who have shown themselves more intent on pressing their own interests or position at the expense of those in their care. Many looked the other way and did not face the truth when innocents were being ill-served or abused.
So what has the Scriptures to tell us as we reflect on what we have heard? The fundamental question is asked by Jesus himself “you, who do you say I am?” Peter does the answering “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” If we can give the same answer, the rest follows; we have our map. If Jesus Christ is God, then to find out what it’s all about, to know where we are meant to go, we listen to him! What he has taught us, the way he has shown us – these have to be our guide! That is why the Scriptures are so important and precious to us – they contain the word of life.
What about Peter? For a fisherman didn’t he come a long way? He started off being called to be a member of the team of disciples. His weaknesses and mistakes are not covered up in the Gospels, but in spite of these, he also displayed strength and courage and showed signs of leadership. In response to his clear expression of belief in Jesus, he was called a rock and entrusted with keys and given the power to bind and to loose. From what we read in the Gospels, it is clear that the other disciples accepted Peter as the leader of the team, the person who had been given authority and the person who was to be the source of unity for the group.
On other occasions, Jesus taught them the meaning of authority in his kingdom. There was to be no lording it over anyone. There was to be no grasping for wealth, power or position. There were to be no whims like building towers or strivings towards what was beyond our reach. Leadership for the kingdom of God was to be exercised in service, in shepherding the flock as Christ taught us. No one was to consider himself above anyone else; each one has his gift, and it is meant to be used for the benefit of the group and it was to be in this way that our lives would be fulfilled, blessed and crowned. What we have has been given to us and the responsibility of those in authority is to see that what has been given is preserved in its integrity, is interpreted for our times and is shared lovingly with all.
Our chief shepherd and source of unity, Pope Benedict XV1, is today in Madrid offering the final Mass of World Youth Day and sharing the Word of God with young people from all over the world. He is first and foremost, like St. Peter, an imperfect human servant who leads with love and by example. His strength comes from his relationship with God and his wisdom from familiarity with God’s graced word. He can be helped to persevere in his work by the daily support of our prayers.
+Liam S. McDaid