But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, Galatians 2:11
Yesterday I wrote about visiting Peter, that is, his successor, the Pope. I wrote of the need for our submission to his authority; that authority which was given to him by our Lord. Yet, today we find Paul opposing Peter. How do these two go together?
The Church believes in papal infallibility. But only under some very restricted circumstances. When the Pope makes a definitive statement regarding faith or morality, we believe the Holy Spirit guards his decisions from error (see Jn. 16:13). But this does not make the Pope himself infallible. He is still a man subject to the same failings as any man. Our text illustrates this frailty in the very first Pope, St. Peter himself.
Over the years there have been good Popes and bad ones. Fortunately, the good ones far outweigh the bad ones. But from time to time it has become necessary to oppose Peter. Like the situation in our text, the Pope's actions can sometimes bring grave scandal. In those times, he must be opposed. This does not strike against our belief in papal infallibility, but rather preserves it. That is to say, that we demand the Pope act like the Pope.
Having said that, I do not believe we are anywhere close to that with the present Pope. His actions back up his words. He demonstrates humility, but it is clear that he is well qualified to teach and to lead the Church. We are blessed to have him at this time in history, and I urge all to pray for him daily.
Paul opposed Peter because it was absolutely necessary. It was not intended to set a precedent or a rule of practice. In fact, it is notable because it was such a rare exception to the rule. As long as Peter is teaching and leading in the same Faith entrusted to him by our Lord, we have an obligation, as I wrote yesterday, to submit to him.
Again, today, I find myself in need of the reminder that I must visit Peter, and visit often. I pray the day does not come when he must be opposed. And for those who have separated themselves because they feel this is still necessary, I urge you to re-examine the situation. The unity of the Church is safeguarded by our submission to Peter. Let the divisions cease, and let us go together in humble submission to visit Peter.