What is now known as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was founded by a community founded in the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States by Father Paul Wattson in the 1890s, and entering the full communion of the Catholic Church in 1909. To begin, this time set aside to pray for the reunion of Christendom was known as the Octave of Christian Unity, running from the 18th to 25th January each year. These dates are of course significant: 25th January is the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, whilst 18th January is known as the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter or, in some Anglican circles, as the feast of the Confession of Saint Peter. In fact, the gospel traditionally assigned for this feast—whichever name we choose to apply—is the account given by Saint Matthew of what we have just heard this morning from Saint Luke, which includes the Christ’s response: Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church (Mt. 16: 18). In other words, the confession of Saint Peter—Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God—is intimately linked with the power bestowed on him by Christ in his Chair, that seat of his apostolic authority after which the personal ordinariate in North America takes its name.
I would like briefly to reflect on two consequences of the intimate connection between these two statements. First, we can say that it is necessary to know in a complete sense who and what is “the Christ.” We must know what it is that Peter proclaims in his confession, in order that we too might make our assent to the same profession of faith. “The Christ,” of course, is the Messiah, the anointed one, the one in whom we find the fulness of prophecy, priesthood, and kingship—three offices themselves bestowed, from the Old Testament to our own day, by anointing. “The Christ,” is the one of whom the Prophet Zechariah speaks in the First Lesson: the one “whom they have pierced” (Zec. 12: 10). Yet, still more, “the Christ” is the Second Person of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. He is God incarnate, and it is in him that we have entered into a blessed relationship with God the Father; the restoration of what was lost by our first parents in the shame of Eden. That intimate relationship—at once personal and corporate—is given to each of us in Holy Baptism. In the waters of the sacred font we are washed clean of original guilt in the name of the Triune God, and by it we become very members incorporate in the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church. Thus, in baptism we come to share in the characteristics which we have just identified as belonging to “the Christ,” the anointed one. We come to share in the prophetic, priestly, and kingly office of Christ, each appropriately according to our state in life. And still more, the body of Christ into which we have become literally incorporated is the entity of the Church, revealed to us in a visible community in her sacraments and institutional life but, far more, known to us as a spiritual community, the hidden but known life of Christ himself.
Thus, to confess with Saint Peter that the Lord is, “The Christ, the Son of the living God,” is an essentially ecclesial act, one which cannot be an authentic act except when it is carried out in the context of the Church, which is the mystical body of Christ. To say such words without the conviction that Christ is found in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church—the Church which subsists uniquely in the Catholic Church—is akin to forming the words with our mouths whilst no sound comes out. That is not necessarily, of course we should say, a completely flawed gesture, but it is one which is nevertheless incomplete, and one which falls short of lending our voice in unity and unison to that clear response of the Blessed Apostle, Peter.
Secondly, there is a missionary and evangelical impetus to this. To assent to these words of Peter, not only with our lips but by our actions, is a tool of evangelization greater than any programme or project could ever be. Witnessing to the truth that Christ is the Christ, and following Peter’s confession to the logical conclusion that we have just traced, is a supremely convincing act of faith. For those of us who have sought to align that desire to acknowledge Christ as he really is, and thus to speak with the voice of Peter in his confession by entering into communion with him, there is a special task. We are called to show others who seek to be faithful Christians how to connect that instinctive knowledge of the Lord as “the Christ” of Peter’s confession, with the very particular outworking of that assent in true union with Peter and his successor. If those of us who, by means of piecing together the fragmented elements of Catholic life found in the rich traditions of our Anglican heritage, have sought out the full communion of the Church, and joined our voice and life to that of Peter, then go on to live in fidelity to the Church’s expectations, our witness to the unity of Christ’s Church itself becomes a means of showing others the beauty, goodness, and truth, that is found in the fulness of life in Christ. Our witness to Christ is strengthened not only in the sense of the grace we receive as individuals through that fulness of relationship with the Church of Christ, but also in the sense of our example to others, of where to find that fulness, of life and of love.
In this task may God grant us the strength and grace we need to live the life he has called us to. May the strong and constant intercession of Saint Peter the Apostle keep us ever in the communion of the Church of the Christ he professed. And by our communion with that same Church, may we become ever more aware of the great gift given to us in what Blessed John Henry Newman called “the one true fold of the Redeemer,” that others who are, as he also said, “shivering at the gates” might come to see in us the one whom, with Peter, we profess: the Christ, the Son of the living God.