FAITH: Today, the Church celebrates the feast for Saint Pope Gregory III.
Pope St. Gregory III was the son of a Syrian named John. The date of his birth is not known. His reputation for learning and virtue was so great that the Romans elected him pope by acclamation, when he was accompanying the funeral procession of his predecessor, 11 February, 731. As he was not consecrated for more than a month after his election, it is presumed that he waited for the confirmation of his election by the exarch at Ravenna. In the matter of Iconoclasm, he followed the policy of his predecessor. He sent legates and letters to remonstrate with the persecuting emperor, Leo III, and held two synods in Rome (731) in which the image-breaking heresy was condemned. By way of a practical protest against the emperor’s action he made it a point of paying special honour to images and relics, giving particular attention to the subject of St. Peter’s. Fragments of inscriptions, to be seen in the crypts of the Vatican basilica, bear witness to this day of an oratory he built therein, and of the special prayers he ordered to be there recited.

Leo, whose sole answer to the arguments and apologies for image worship which were addressed to him from both East and West, was force, seized the papal patrimonies in Calabria and Sicily, or wherever he had any power in Italy, and transferred to the patriarch of Constantinople the ecclesiastical jurisdiction which the popes had previously exercised both there, and throughout the ancient Prefecture of Illyricum. Gregory III confirmed the decision of his predecessors as to the respective rights of the Patriarchs of Aquileia and Grado, and sent the pallium to Antoninus of Grado. In granting it also to Egbert of York, he was only following out the arrangements of St. Gregory I who had laid it down that York was to have metropolitical rights in the North of England, as Canterbury had to have them in the South. Both Tatwine and Nothelm of Canterbury received the pallium in succession from Gregory III (731 and 736). At his request Gregory III extended to St. Boniface the same support and encouragement which had been afforded him by Gregory II. “Strengthened exceedingly by the help of the affection of the Apostolic See”, the saint joyfully continued his glorious work for the conversion of Germany. About 737 Boniface came to Rome for the third time to give an account of his stewardship, and to enjoy the pope’s “life-giving conversation”, At Gregory’s order the monk and great traveller, St. Willibald, went to assist his cousin St. Boniface in his labours.

The close of Gregory’s reign was troubled by the Lombards. Realizing the ambition which animated Liutprand, Gregory completed the restoration of the walls of Rome which had been begun by his predecessors, and bought back Gallese, a stronghold on the Flaminian Way, from Transamund, Duke of Spoleto, which helped to keep open the communications between Rome and Ravenna. In 739, Liutprand was again in arms. His troops ravaged the exarchate, and he himself marched south to bring to subjection his vassals, the Dukes of Spoleto and Benevento, and the Duchy of Rome. Transamund fled to Rome, and Gregory implored the aid of the great Frankish chief, Charles Martel. At length ambassadors from the viceroy (subregulus) of the Franks appeared in Rome (739). Their arrival, or the summer heats, brought a momentary peace. But in the following year, Liutprand again took the field. This time the Romans left their walls, and helped Transamund to recover Spoleto. When, however, he had recovered his duchy, he would not or could not comply with Gregory’s request, and endeavour to recover for the pope “the four cities of the Roman duchy which had been lost for his sake.” In the midst of all these wars and rumours of war, Gregory died, and was buried in the oratory of our Lady which he had himself built in St. Peter’s. He died in 741, but whether in November or December is not certain. It is however, on 28 November that he is commemorated in the Roman martyrology.

FAITH: Today, the Church celebrates the feast for Saint Pope Gregory III.

Pope St. Gregory III was the son of a Syrian named John. The date of his birth is not known. His reputation for learning and virtue was so great that the Romans elected him pope by acclamation, when he was accompanying the funeral procession of his predecessor, 11 February, 731. As he was not consecrated for more than a month after his election, it is presumed that he waited for the confirmation of his election by the exarch at Ravenna. In the matter of Iconoclasm, he followed the policy of his predecessor. He sent legates and letters to remonstrate with the persecuting emperor, Leo III, and held two synods in Rome (731) in which the image-breaking heresy was condemned. By way of a practical protest against the emperor’s action he made it a point of paying special honour to images and relics, giving particular attention to the subject of St. Peter’s. Fragments of inscriptions, to be seen in the crypts of the Vatican basilica, bear witness to this day of an oratory he built therein, and of the special prayers he ordered to be there recited.

Leo, whose sole answer to the arguments and apologies for image worship which were addressed to him from both East and West, was force, seized the papal patrimonies in Calabria and Sicily, or wherever he had any power in Italy, and transferred to the patriarch of Constantinople the ecclesiastical jurisdiction which the popes had previously exercised both there, and throughout the ancient Prefecture of Illyricum. Gregory III confirmed the decision of his predecessors as to the respective rights of the Patriarchs of Aquileia and Grado, and sent the pallium to Antoninus of Grado. In granting it also to Egbert of York, he was only following out the arrangements of St. Gregory I who had laid it down that York was to have metropolitical rights in the North of England, as Canterbury had to have them in the South. Both Tatwine and Nothelm of Canterbury received the pallium in succession from Gregory III (731 and 736). At his request Gregory III extended to St. Boniface the same support and encouragement which had been afforded him by Gregory II. “Strengthened exceedingly by the help of the affection of the Apostolic See”, the saint joyfully continued his glorious work for the conversion of Germany. About 737 Boniface came to Rome for the third time to give an account of his stewardship, and to enjoy the pope’s “life-giving conversation”, At Gregory’s order the monk and great traveller, St. Willibald, went to assist his cousin St. Boniface in his labours.

The close of Gregory’s reign was troubled by the Lombards. Realizing the ambition which animated Liutprand, Gregory completed the restoration of the walls of Rome which had been begun by his predecessors, and bought back Gallese, a stronghold on the Flaminian Way, from Transamund, Duke of Spoleto, which helped to keep open the communications between Rome and Ravenna. In 739, Liutprand was again in arms. His troops ravaged the exarchate, and he himself marched south to bring to subjection his vassals, the Dukes of Spoleto and Benevento, and the Duchy of Rome. Transamund fled to Rome, and Gregory implored the aid of the great Frankish chief, Charles Martel. At length ambassadors from the viceroy (subregulus) of the Franks appeared in Rome (739). Their arrival, or the summer heats, brought a momentary peace. But in the following year, Liutprand again took the field. This time the Romans left their walls, and helped Transamund to recover Spoleto. When, however, he had recovered his duchy, he would not or could not comply with Gregory’s request, and endeavour to recover for the pope “the four cities of the Roman duchy which had been lost for his sake.” In the midst of all these wars and rumours of war, Gregory died, and was buried in the oratory of our Lady which he had himself built in St. Peter’s. He died in 741, but whether in November or December is not certain. It is however, on 28 November that he is commemorated in the Roman martyrology.

GOSPEL: Matthew 16:13-20
When Jesus went into  the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people  say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist,  others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to  them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You  are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply,  “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not  revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you  are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of  the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 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.” Then  he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the  Messiah.

Gospel Commentary by Father Joel Jason:
The Church Built on Rocky (not Balboa)
This  Sunday, hundreds of thousands of youth (Catholics and non Catholics  alike) from the 5 continents of the world culminate World Youth Day in  Madrid with a closing Mass to be celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI, the  264th successor of Peter the apostle. Interestingly, this Sunday we  reflect on Simon, son of Jonah’s confession of faith on the person of  Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v16) and Jesus’  affirmation that Simon will now be called “Peter” (v 18), meaning  “rock”, as he will be the foundation of the Church Christ will  establish. Call it coincidence but I am typing this reflection as HBO is  currently showing the fourth installment of an old boxing film about a  never say die Italian boxer named Rocky Balboa.Rocky faces the  fight of his life in the scientifically trained and genetically enhanced  Russian behemoth Ivan Drago. Surprised that Rocky is still standing  after enduring a brutal beating no mortal could possibly survive, Drago  murmurs to his corner, “He’s not human!”“He’s not human!”  captures an important aspect of the ministry and office of this simple  fisherman turned fisher of men and the first of what is to be a long  line of Popes (i.e., Jesus’ vicar on earth) enduring through two  thousand years of Christianity.In the Gospel, Jesus asks all the  disciples a question: “Who do people say that I am?” The results of the  opinion polls came in: some say John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or  one of the prophets. The polls were wrong. Jesus then asks the  disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” The results came in: Dead  silence. The apostles could not even give a common answer, which is as  good as getting it wrong like the opinion polls. Then came the response  of Simon: “ You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Only Simon  got it right! Was it because Simon represented the majority?  He alone  got it. Was it because Simon was the most intelligent, an aristocrat?  Duh!Why did Simon get it right? Because “he’s not human”. Before  you protest, let me explain. Simon’s profession was not a product of  poll opinions. What Simon affirmed was not an insight of his own  intelligence What Simon said was a gift (charis in Greek) from above:  “…this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in  heaven”(v 18). Thus, Simon will no longer be called Simon, son of John  but Peter ( from the Hebrew Cephas meaning rock). He will now be called  Rocky:“….and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates  of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of  heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and  whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (vv 19-20).From  this Gospel episode, we can derive several insights into the ministry  of the Papacy and the Church. Here I borrow some insights from the late  Bishop Fulton Sheen.First, the Church is not a democracy.  Democracy is founded on the power of the majority, the greatest number.  While there is a legitimate good derivative from the majority, it is not  always the case. The opinion polls in the Gospel got it wrong regarding  the person of Jesus. It was the majority that preferred Barabbas over  Jesus. It was also the majority that legalized the murder of infants by  their mothers in America and elsewhere. While politics can be ruled by  democracy, the Kingdom of God cannot be. The Kingdom of God is about the  truth that saves and liberates. The truth cannot be turned over to the  whims and caprice of the greater majority. Truth is truth even when no  one believes it. Error is error even if everybody believes it.In  the recent Senate sponsorship of the Reproductive Health bill, a Lady  Senator chided the Church by saying that a majority of Filipinos approve  the RH Bill (as a side note, the way a question is formulated usually  influences the results of a survey). According to her, “It’s time for  the Church to listen to the majority.” In essence, she wants Church  people to be like politicians. Well, politicians decide by the majority,  by popularity. The Church decides by fidelity - fidelity to the truth  of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She spoke of letting people decide by  their conscience. This position is too simplistic. If you ask Hitler why  he did the holocaust, I’m sure he would say he simply followed his  conscience. It will be the same with Pol Pot of the Cambodia massacre.  The real issue here is this. One can only decide with an informed and  educated conscience. Is your decision of conscience informed and  educated by the Divine law? Or if one is not a person of faith, by the  natural moral law (which is nothing else, by the way, but the Divine law  inscribed in the nature of persons and things and actions)? Are the  provisions of the RH bill compatible to the Divine or natural law? The  lady Senator will be hard pressed to prove it.Second insight.  The Church in essence is a Theocracy, i.e., the rule of God. Fr. Robert  Barron rendered it as a “Charismatic Government”, a body given gifts  (charis) from above to ensure that the truth of God, no more no less, is  that which governs the people. Jesus Himself assured this in the  Gospel: “…And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will  build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give  you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will  be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in  heaven.”” In season and out of season, the Church is spurred on, not by  popularity, but by fidelity to Jesus’ message.Oh yes, error has  been found in the Church in the past. Evil has tainted the Church’s  history. But this is the price of human freedom. The key to  understanding is this. It is a Church man, not the Church that has  committed error. It is a priest, not the priesthood in general that has  committed evil. It is a Pope, not the papacy in general that has  committed wrong.Why has the Church survived for 2000 years  despite particular human failings? Because in essence and as a whole,  She is a charismatic (grace-filled and grace sustained) community, built  on the foundation of Peter the Rock.This is the mystery of the  Church and the office of the papacy. “He’s not human” not because She is  composed of perfect personalities. Far from it. “He’s not human”  because there is something beyond human in Her. Despite the  imperfections, the Church is “still standing after enduring a brutal  beating no mortal could possibly survive” because She is sustained and  maintained by a gift (charis) from above. This is why the gates of Hell  will not prevail against Her.Let us all pray that we keep ourselves open and receptive to that gift (charis).God bless!

GOSPEL: Matthew 16:13-20

When Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. 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.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Messiah.

Gospel Commentary by Father Joel Jason:

The Church Built on Rocky (not Balboa)

This Sunday, hundreds of thousands of youth (Catholics and non Catholics alike) from the 5 continents of the world culminate World Youth Day in Madrid with a closing Mass to be celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI, the 264th successor of Peter the apostle. Interestingly, this Sunday we reflect on Simon, son of Jonah’s confession of faith on the person of Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v16) and Jesus’ affirmation that Simon will now be called “Peter” (v 18), meaning “rock”, as he will be the foundation of the Church Christ will establish. Call it coincidence but I am typing this reflection as HBO is currently showing the fourth installment of an old boxing film about a never say die Italian boxer named Rocky Balboa.

Rocky faces the fight of his life in the scientifically trained and genetically enhanced Russian behemoth Ivan Drago. Surprised that Rocky is still standing after enduring a brutal beating no mortal could possibly survive, Drago murmurs to his corner, “He’s not human!”

“He’s not human!” captures an important aspect of the ministry and office of this simple fisherman turned fisher of men and the first of what is to be a long line of Popes (i.e., Jesus’ vicar on earth) enduring through two thousand years of Christianity.

In the Gospel, Jesus asks all the disciples a question: “Who do people say that I am?” The results of the opinion polls came in: some say John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. The polls were wrong. Jesus then asks the disciples: “Who do you say that I am?” The results came in: Dead silence. The apostles could not even give a common answer, which is as good as getting it wrong like the opinion polls. Then came the response of Simon: “ You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Only Simon got it right! Was it because Simon represented the majority?  He alone got it. Was it because Simon was the most intelligent, an aristocrat? Duh!

Why did Simon get it right? Because “he’s not human”. Before you protest, let me explain. Simon’s profession was not a product of poll opinions. What Simon affirmed was not an insight of his own intelligence What Simon said was a gift (charis in Greek) from above: “…this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven”(v 18). Thus, Simon will no longer be called Simon, son of John but Peter ( from the Hebrew Cephas meaning rock). He will now be called Rocky:

“….and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (vv 19-20).

From this Gospel episode, we can derive several insights into the ministry of the Papacy and the Church. Here I borrow some insights from the late Bishop Fulton Sheen.

First, the Church is not a democracy. Democracy is founded on the power of the majority, the greatest number. While there is a legitimate good derivative from the majority, it is not always the case. The opinion polls in the Gospel got it wrong regarding the person of Jesus. It was the majority that preferred Barabbas over Jesus. It was also the majority that legalized the murder of infants by their mothers in America and elsewhere. While politics can be ruled by democracy, the Kingdom of God cannot be. The Kingdom of God is about the truth that saves and liberates. The truth cannot be turned over to the whims and caprice of the greater majority. Truth is truth even when no one believes it. Error is error even if everybody believes it.

In the recent Senate sponsorship of the Reproductive Health bill, a Lady Senator chided the Church by saying that a majority of Filipinos approve the RH Bill (as a side note, the way a question is formulated usually influences the results of a survey). According to her, “It’s time for the Church to listen to the majority.” In essence, she wants Church people to be like politicians. Well, politicians decide by the majority, by popularity. The Church decides by fidelity - fidelity to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She spoke of letting people decide by their conscience. This position is too simplistic. If you ask Hitler why he did the holocaust, I’m sure he would say he simply followed his conscience. It will be the same with Pol Pot of the Cambodia massacre. The real issue here is this. One can only decide with an informed and educated conscience. Is your decision of conscience informed and educated by the Divine law? Or if one is not a person of faith, by the natural moral law (which is nothing else, by the way, but the Divine law inscribed in the nature of persons and things and actions)? Are the provisions of the RH bill compatible to the Divine or natural law? The lady Senator will be hard pressed to prove it.

Second insight. The Church in essence is a Theocracy, i.e., the rule of God. Fr. Robert Barron rendered it as a “Charismatic Government”, a body given gifts (charis) from above to ensure that the truth of God, no more no less, is that which governs the people. Jesus Himself assured this in the Gospel: “…And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”” In season and out of season, the Church is spurred on, not by popularity, but by fidelity to Jesus’ message.

Oh yes, error has been found in the Church in the past. Evil has tainted the Church’s history. But this is the price of human freedom. The key to understanding is this. It is a Church man, not the Church that has committed error. It is a priest, not the priesthood in general that has committed evil. It is a Pope, not the papacy in general that has committed wrong.

Why has the Church survived for 2000 years despite particular human failings? Because in essence and as a whole, She is a charismatic (grace-filled and grace sustained) community, built on the foundation of Peter the Rock.

This is the mystery of the Church and the office of the papacy. “He’s not human” not because She is composed of perfect personalities. Far from it. “He’s not human” because there is something beyond human in Her. Despite the imperfections, the Church is “still standing after enduring a brutal beating no mortal could possibly survive” because She is sustained and maintained by a gift (charis) from above. This is why the gates of Hell will not prevail against Her.

Let us all pray that we keep ourselves open and receptive to that gift (charis).

God bless!