Among the many important things I’ve received during my first week here at St. Andrews — including wifi passwords, access to parish calendars, and instructions on how to make coffee for the office — probably THE most important, most useful thing I have received are the “Keys to the Kingdom.” That’s right — I now have a set of keys that will open just about any door on Church grounds.
One of these keys is the Master Key, which is the one that opens most of the doors around here. I can recognize the Master Key because it’s the one with the strangest, most complicated shape.
This has a clear application to our Gospel passage today. There we hear the famous story of Jesus handing the Keys to the Kingdom over to Peter — a text that obviously supports the Catholic belief that Christ explicitly established the papacy and its authority in the life of the Church.
But it’s also worth looking at this passage from a slightly different angle, reflecting on the simple fact that those Keys which Peter received are like that Master Key I got from Fr Kevin — The Keys to the Kingdom are strange looking keys. They stick out, and at times, they might even seem weird, arbitrary, or unnecessarily complicated in their design.
Let’s face it: Being Catholic certainly makes us stick out in today’s culture — often in uncomfortable, even confusing ways.
We might feel more self-conscious about our faith nowadays, but this experience is nothing new, really. Being Catholic has always had a rather strange shape to it. Faithful Christian living has never quite fit into worldly understandings and philosophies. It’s a convenient self-justification to say it’s harder to be a Christian now than in any other time period. But when it comes down to it, the beliefs and magisterial teachings of the Church have always been radically countercultural and hard to accept. From day one, when Jesus first issued some of his hard sayings somewhere in Palestine, 2,000 years ago, the Gospel has looked outlandish or even outright offensive to fallen humanity.
But we need to remember: the Keys given to Peter in our Gospel today are the Master Keys. So they have to be odd. They have to be different. They have to be strangely shaped — or else they won’t be able to open the most important doors that Christ means for His Church to be able to open!
GK Chesterton once quipped that “a key is above all things a thing with a shape.” He goes on to say: “The Christian creed is above all things the philosophy of shapes and the enemy of shapelessness.”
We really shouldn’t bother trying to reshape the Keys to the Kingdom to appear less strange, less abrasive, or less demanding — even if it’s done with the very good intention of reaching contemporary culture — because in reality, these Keys are made of hard, solid metal for a reason — They can unlock the timeless truths every human being desires to know:
Truths about God — About Who He is and how much He loves us — how far He is willing to go to save us.
Truths about us — about what it means to be a human being created in the image and likeness of God.
Truths about how we are to live — about morality, ethics, rights and responsibilities toward God and each other.
Truths about what makes us truly happy — not only while we are here on earth, but for all eternity!
These Eternal Truths are just too much for us to wrap out heads around and we’d never know them on our own strength. They are just too profound and vast. In our second reading this week we hear St. Paul, overwhelmed with the glory of so much Truth: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” he says. “How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!
This, it seems to me, is why Christ gave those beautifully weird keys to Peter: To unlock for us the inscrutable depths, and riches, and wisdom of God. All of the authority Jesus gave to the Church — the power of binding and loosing on heaven and earth — is ordered to precisely this end: to lead us into a personal relationship with the Lord and King of the universe!
Nowadays, it’s much more fashionable to say that there is no such thing as a Master Key that will unlock all the Truths about Life. It’s all relative, many say — as long as you aren’t hurting anyone. They’ll tell you that nothing matters at all and that life is what you make it.
They even say that each person is free to invent and define the shape of the lock and key to their own version of reality.
Our Catholic faith, on the other hand, built on the stable authority and rock-hard witness of Peter and his successors, boldly proclaims the Good News: No, you do have a real purpose in life! You have been created by a God who is Love, so as to love Him in return. He is our peace! He is our joy! Do you want that joy? You’re in luck! Because we’ve been given a trustworthy set of Keys that help us receive that Joy!
All the Popes — all 266 of them — have received this same exact set of Master Keys from the Lord, these keys that unlock Truth. They wouldn’t be able change them even if they tried!
And why should they want to anyways? To have the Keys to the Kingdom means to have the Keys to Jesus Himself. And to be in Him… is life.
So the next time you hear someone say that all-too-commonly heard sort of thing: “I just wish the Church would change its views on such and such a thing” — I invite you to charitably, gently, and warmly remind them… that Jesus Christ gave the Keys of the Kingdom to the Church for our immense, perfect and eternal benefit — for our life! Those glorious, unchanging Keys unlock the Truth and Happiness we’re all seeking, and they open the doors of Heaven to us.
And if today you find yourself perhaps confronted by the strangeness of those Keys — Good. Invite the Lord into that experience as well. As we approach the Altar today, where we receive anew the fruits of Jesus’ Once-for-all Sacrifice, let us all lift our hearts to Him sincerely, trusting that by His grace, we will remain within the safe guardianship of Holy Mother the Church for the rest of our lives, where the gates of Hell will not prevail.