The Davidic monarchy-that is, the kings of David's lineage-organized their household in a specific way, and this included a chief minister who was the king's second-in-command. On behalf of the king was "father of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and of the house of Judah.". As a sign of this authority he received a key or keys, as the chief butler in a rich man's house might possess all the keys necessary to open every door in the house. In fact, the first reading continues: "It will open and no one will close; it will close and no one will open."
The image, deliberately chosen by Jesus, helps us to understand today's Gospel, in which Our Lord delivers to Peter "...".the keys to the kingdom of heaven". Jesus is making Peter, and the Popes after him, his chief minister on earth, father of the new people he is forming. And to make this even clearer, Our Lord continues: "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." In the same way that only the chief minister could open or close some doors, the pope receives an authority that belongs to him alone. What the pope "binds", what he defines with authority or legislates in a permanent way for all to follow or believe, is ratified in heaven, but only because heaven has inspired this in him: "For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven." As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, the pope exercises this infallibility when "proclaims by a definitive act the doctrine in matters of faith and morals." (no. 891), that is, it is a teaching destined to last, to be sustained forever, not just a matter of an epoch. The Pope is not infallible every time he opens his mouth. In fact, he exercises his infallibility very rarely, although in practice, even in his ordinary, everyday utterances, we can assume that he has much more guidance from the Holy Spirit than we do.
God does not have a human advisor, not even an angelic one, as the second reading points out: "...God has no human advisor, not even an angelic one, as the second reading points out:"What an abyss of riches, of wisdom and knowledge that of God! How unfathomable his decisions and how untraceable his ways! Indeed, who knew the mind of the Lord? Or who was his counselor?" But even if we cannot "decipher" God's ways, He can reveal them. And He does so for our salvation. And having revealed His salvific truths to us, it makes sense that He has found a way for those truths to be transmitted over time without error. The Catholic affirmation of papal infallibility is not arrogance on the part of the Church. It is rather a recognition that, precisely because of human weakness (often seen in the Popes), God has intervened to ensure that this weakness does not damage or limit its truth. Papal infallibility simply shows us that the power of God is greater than human weakness.
Homily on the readings of the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
The priest Luis Herrera Campo offers its nanomiliaA short one-minute reflection for these Sunday readings.