Monday, February 22, 2010

Station Church: San Pietro in Vincoli

Early Monday morning we were off to St. Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains), which lies in the middle of the city on the Oppian Hill or in other words, a long walk from the NAC.

This church was first established in the late fourth or early fifth century by Pope Sixtus III. It would be destroyed soon after by fire or earthquake. It was repaired by the Byzantine Emperor in 450, just about the time that the chains for St. Peter's jail time in Jerusalem were given to the Church in Rome. They were placed with the chains from St. Peter's imprisonment in Rome and the two fused together. They were originally kept in a shrine in the left transept but were moved into a confessio constructed in front of the new high altar.

photo by roblisameehan

Pope Julius II would add a number of improvements including space for his tomb. He would eventually be buried in St. Peter's. But his tomb is notable because it was completed in 1545 by Michelangelo and includes his famous Moses. This church also contains the remains of the seven Maccabee brothers. For more info about this church check out pnac, wiki, or sacred destinations.

photo by ndalls

It is no coincidence that we celebrate today's Lenten Station Church at St. Peter in Chains. This is also the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter. This feast was first celebrated as early as the 4th century and commemorated the day on which Peter was first chosen as pope through his proclamation of faith and the words of Jesus.

photo by scuba04

We know that St. Peter or Simon (Greek) Bar Jona, Son of John, was a native of Bethsaida, the northern part of the Sea of Galilee, from the town of Capernaum. He had a brother Andrew and a wife who he took on his travels with him. He was partners with James, John and his brother in a fishing business. They are often portrayed as poor and uneducated. But Peter would have at least known the Scriptures well and considering he owned a couple boats with hired hands, you could say he was a small businessman. In fact, if there was a Yellow Pages listing, it might read: Johnson Brothers Inc., Wholesale and Retail Fish.

He was generous, impulsive, good-hearted, though often without even thinking. One only need think of the transfiguration, the remonstration before the passion, or the drawing of the sword in the garden. His heart was always in the right place but his brain was not always engaged. But after the Resurrection, the hapless Peter of the Gospels was gone and only the leader was left, minus the incident in Antioch of course. He was a transformed man as though the words of Jesus in today's reading from Matthew's Gospel finally took root and he was truly ready to be the rock.

The feast of the Chair of St. Peter celebrates what the early Church eventually came to understand as the moment when St. Peter was given a unique authority and charism over the whole Church. But there are two other passages that can also help us to understand the role of St. Peter, the role of any pope in the Church, besides exercising authority. In John 21:1 and following, Jesus meets Peter on the shore and here there seems to be more a conferral of responsibility and authority. John does not speak of power and hierarchy so much as love and service. And again in Luke 22:31-32, Jesus foretells the denial of Peter but also that when he has turned back, he will strengthen his brothers. Peter's mission will not simply be one of authority but also one who unifies, acts as a bridge, stands as a mediator.

Perhaps today as we gaze upon the chains that twice bound St. Peter, we can offer a prayer for our Holy Father Pope Benedict, for his intentions and his health, for his courage and faithfulness to his vocation as supreme pontiff of the Catholic Church, knowing that to be faithful to this vocation requires a prudent and just exercise of authority, a deep love and self-sacrificing service, and a man willing to bridge the divides of peoples and nations to bring all to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

For more info on the Station Church series click here.


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