I want to say a few words about why Catholics think we have all the answers, because today is the feast day of St Peter and St Paul, the two “Roman” saints associated with the claims of the Roman Church.
St Peter is the man that Catholics hail as the first “Pope”, the first Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Christ on Earth. We hail him as the “Vicar of Christ” because he is the one that Jesus called the “Rock”, renaming him from “Simon” (Hebrew) to “Cephas” (in Aramaic), or “Peter” (in Latin). I could give an exegesis on the word-play in “rock”, but, the papal or ‘Petrine’ role it establishes can probably be more easily seen in some other things: For example, Did you know that the name that is mentioned more than any other name in the Gospels (apart of that of Jesus Himself) is the name of Peter? -indicating his leading role. Did you know that though 16th Century protestants denied the Pope’s claim that the Bishop of Rome is the successor of St Peter this claim wasn’t denied by any of the ancient Church Fathers? This is significant, because if the papacy was a thing ‘invited’ by the popes then we would expect some ancient historical figure to have said, “No other Bishop of Rome claimed to the successor of St Peter”. And this is because all the ancient sources recognised that the Bishop of Rome is the successor of St Peter, and carries the authority of St Peter -Rome being the place where St Peter spent the end of his life.
But, even if the Pope is the successor of St Peter, why do popes claim to teach with authority? The answer to this question is one that connects us back to the Gospel text of today, and connects us back to the importance of the person of Christ Himself.
Many people in the world today say that there is no “truth” and that there is no single “meaning of life”. They say that the truth is different for every person, that each one has to make up his own meaning to his own life. How this can be reconciled with the fact that people come up with radically opposed ‘truth’ claims, and people come up with meanings and aims that threaten and oppose each other –how this can be reconciled is never adequately answered by such people.
And it can only be answered by saying that there IS a TRUTH that we must all acknowledge, there is a meaning to life that we must all discover if we are to be happy. That meaning to life is only to found in the One who created that life, God, and that truth is only to be found in that creator who came among us saying of Himself that “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”(Jn 14:6).
It is only in knowing Christ that we truly and fully know where we came from and where we are called to go. As the Second Vatican Council put it, It is Jesus Christ “who fully reveals man to himself” (Gaudium et spes 22, cited in JPII, RH 10.1). He is the one who as God has full truth, and as perfect man shows us what we, as perfected, are called to be. All answers about life are thus to be found in Him, and all other answers are only partial and fragmentary unless they are The Answer found in Him.
And, who was it that first identified the Christ? Who was it that answered the question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
It was the first Pope: “Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah... because it was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven”(Mt 16: 17).
It was because the first Pope knew Christ that he knew The Answer, that he was one that no doubt the secularists of our day would mockingly say, “Oh, he talks as if he has all the answers”. Well, in knowing THE Answer he did know all the answers.
And in knowing THE Answer, in inheriting the role of making that Answer known to the world, the successor of St Peter, the Pope in Rome, he too knows all the answers. He doesn’t know them of his own power, rather, like St Peter his infallibility is guaranteed from Above not from below, made know by the Father in heaven through the action of the Holy Spirit.
That is why and how the Pope knows all the answers, and it is why and how WE TOO can know all the answers if we listen and accept what the Pope says, trustfully accepting that his authoritative teaching is guaranteed by the Lord, so that “the gates the underworld will never prevail against it” (Mt 16:18).