In our first reading, Eliakim becomes the Master of the Palace for King Hezekiah. The transfer of authority is symbolized by placing the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder. He controls what gets opened and what stays shut. The key symbolizes royal authority; Eliakim is now the Master of the Palace and controls the daily functions.
This helps us understand the Gospel when Jesus says to Peter, I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. In other words, Peter is the “Master of the Palace” and has the primary authority in the Church. He is not the king, he is not the ultimate authority, but the one put in charge of the kings affairs here on earth.
The interpretation of this is an ecumenical hurdle. We believe that Jesus left Peter and his successors as His visible authority in the Church; other Christian denominations do not accept that.
It is important that we understand what it means. It does NOT mean that every word the pope speaks is infallible. The pope is only infallible when he proclaims a dogma ex cathedra, literally “from the chair.” The last time this was done was with the dogma of the Assumption in 1950. The time before that was with the Immaculate Conception in 1854. So, you can see, that rarely happens.
While every word the pope declares is not infallible, they cannot be dismissed lightly. The pope, in conjunction with the bishops, has the teaching authority of the Church and they need to be listened to. That being said, the Church also teaches the primacy of our individual consciences, which means we have to take responsibility for what we choose to believe. So, it is a balancing act between not lightly dismissing what the Church says and following our INFORMED conscience. The word “informed” is crucial: we need to know what the Church teaches, we need to read the scriptures and any other relevant information, we need to pray and talk with the Lord, and then we can make an “informed” decision.
I cannot emphasize enough how important “pray and talk with the Lord” is. It is so easy for us to fool ourselves, to give ourselves a “get out of jail free card.” But if we bring our struggles to the Lord in prayer and give Him some quiet time to speak with us, He will give us the guidance we need in forming our consciences.
The scriptures are important. The teaching authority of the Church is important. Our local community and leaders are important. But, ultimately, we stand alone before God to account for the decisions we have made. The more we make sure we have an “informed conscience,” the more we can relax and be sure all will be well when we stand before the Lord. And the most important thing of all is quiet time speaking with and listening to the Lord.
Have a good week. Be safe.