homily – August 24

Matthew 16:13-20

The symbol that is prominent in the first reading and the gospel is that of a key. Eliakim receives the key to the house of David – Peter is given the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The keys Jesus gave to Peter are those given to Him by the Father – Jesus used His keys to open the eyes and ears and hearts of those willing to listen to His teaching. He used His keys to shut out darkness, sin and despair. The church uses its keys to open to us the truths of scripture and the mysteries of our Christian faith. It has used them to lock out the errors, the heresies that have tried to enter into the life of the church from the very time of the Apostles. The church uses its keys in and through its sacramental life as it opens our lives to the life and love of God especially in and through the great sacrament of reconciliation. God places the key on Eliakim’s shoulder to show that the authority he was given would be a burden not a privilege and it is the same with the keys given to Peter, not a privilege of power but a burden of service to us all.

Keys are the symbol of power or control. Loose the keys to your house or to your car and you are helpless. There is nothing worse that being told you must hand over the keys to your car because you can’t drive any more or hand over the keys to your home because you can’t live alone any more. This doesn’t happen any more but can you remember when you found yourself locked out as you came home from a party past your curfew. Curfew, that’s a word you never hear any more. He who has the keys has the power. As we all know power, authority can be used for good or misused for ill.

Parents hold the keys that empower them to unlock for their children their own faith and life values – just by the example they give them. Parents have the keys that can unlock for their children the security, the love and acceptance they need to establish themselves in positive self love. Parents have the power to lock out of their own lives and the lives of their children the corrosive power of prejudice and bigotry and at the same time unlock the doors that allow them to live with respect for people different from themselves.

We are shocked when we hear stories of parents who lock a child away, hidden in a room for years, subject to abuse of every kind. We wonder what kind of parent could do such an evil thing. But when parents lock a child out of their love and acceptance, when they fail to accept that child for what he or she is, they are locking such a child in a room of self doubt and life long isolation. The terrible power of the keys.

As we get ready for a new school year we can think about the power of the keys teachers possess to unlock the wonders of learning for their students.

Outside St. Peter’s in Rome there is that impressive, larger than life statue of St. Peter holding the keys that give the church the power to lock or unlock. Each one of us has such a key, a power to open or close our hearts and lives to other people, family, friends or strangers. Each of us has the key, the power to open or close our minds to new ideas and insights into our faith, into life itself.

As we continue to celebrate this Mass – in which God unlocks to each of us the treasury of His love and forgiveness, we can pray for ourselves and for each other that we use wisely and generously the power of the keys God has given to each of us.