Bishop's Column

The chair of St. Peter

Behind the high altar at St. Peter’s basilica is a masterpiece of sacred art, designed by the great Gian Lorenzo Bernini. It is shaped like a bronze chair, held up ever so delicately by angels and flanked by enormous statues to the right and left, Saints Augustine and Ambrose, the doctors of the west, and Saints Basil and Athanasius, the doctors of the east. The symbolic bronze chair of Peter is placed below the magnificent alabaster window depicting the Holy Spirit. The chair is breathtaking.

The chair is a reliquary of sorts.  Inside the bronze chair is a simple wooden bench.  But this bench is more magnificent than its reliquary because it is believed to be an ancient Roman chair upon whom sat, perhaps, St. Peter, apostle of Jesus Christ, and the first Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ on earth.

On February 22nd, we celebrate this simple chair, and what it represents.  We celebrate that Christ has entrusted his Church to a vicar: to men empowered by the Holy Spirit with grace to “feed the sheep” of Jesus Christ—to guide the Church as it proclaims the Gospel throughout the world.

When we celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, we celebrate the history of the papacy—the men whom Christ has entrusted as his vicars.  We pray for them, and we ask them to pray for us.  We also celebrate the gifts of authority and infallibility, given to the Pope in service to the Church.  We celebrate the assurance that our Church is led and protected by the Holy Spirit.

And, on the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, we remember the apostolic zeal of St. Peter himself.  We remember his reliance on Christ’s mercy, his eagerness to proclaim the Gospel, and his martyrdom.  We remember the many popes throughout history who have proclaimed the Gospel effectively, convincingly, and zealously.

Bernini designed the reliquary of St. Peter’s chair to amplify and honor the Vicar of Christ—to present the Gospel compellingly, convincingly, and beautifully.

To honor the Vicar of Christ, and to join in the Church’s mission, we should follow after Bernini.  We too should find new ways to present the Gospel beautifully and convincingly.  We should point to the majesty of God, and to the incredible gift of Christ’s Church to the world.   We can do so with sacred art, with sacred music, and by the proclamation of the Gospel.

Next week, the Diocese of Lincoln will welcome Catholic Voices USA, an evangelization and media apostolate, to the Blessed John XXIII Center.  On Friday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m., the Blessed John XXIII Center will host “Lessons from Pope Francis: communicating the Gospel in 2014.” 

This lecture, given by National Review editor Kathryn Jean Lopez and media professional Scot Landry, will suggest that we, in our everyday lives, can communicate the Gospel as beautifully, and as compelling, as Bernini.  We will learn to support the Church, especially using new tools of social and digital media.  We will learn to defend the faith.  And we will learn to point, as Bernini did, to the beauty of Christ’s Church.  I pray you will join us.

The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter celebrates the history of those popes who defended, proclaimed, and died for the Gospel.  May we defend and proclaim the Gospel as well, and may we be prepared to joyfully give ourselves freely to Jesus Christ.

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