Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, Gal. 1:18
Paul states here that the purpose for his visit on this occasion was to visit Peter. It was not just to go to the Mother Church of Jerusalem. It was not to see the apostles all together. It was specifically to see Peter.
This is one of many references that show that the infant Church recognized Peter uniquely as the leader. This principle has come to underlie the Catholic teaching of the papacy. We believe that Peter was essentially the first Pope. That is, he was chosen by our Lord to be the rock on which He would build His Church. Our Lord granted him unique authority when He first made him personally the one granted to bind or loose (see Matthew 16:18,19).
Paul's desire to see Peter is to be in communion with the vicar of Christ. It is to be one with the chief of the apostles to whom alone was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. It would appear that Paul's Judaizing opponents were using Peter to support their cause. Paul's appeal here is to show that there is no division between himself and Peter. Rather, Paul has submitted to Peter's authority in presenting that message which was given to him by direct revelation of our Lord. The conclusion was that Peter would go to the Jews, and Paul would go to the Gentiles.
This whole episode causes me to ask, however, exactly to what extent am I willing to visit Peter? I am Catholic. But is that all that is required to be in communion with the See of Peter? I don't think so. Our Lord has entrusted Peter, and his successors, with the task of feeding the sheep. He is a teacher. What is he saying?
This role of teacher and shepherd does not only apply to the current Pope, but the Popes throughout history. What have they been saying? What word of the Lord has proceeded from the chair of St. Peter?
The Pope is continually teaching, guiding, and leading. But I don't often know what it is he's saying. I need to know. Not only that, but I also need to obey. This is the hard part. I don't want to have to do that. I still want to retain the right to chart my own course and determine truth for myself. That was fine enough when I was a Protestant, but not now that I am a Catholic.
To be Catholic is to submit to the Church. To submit to the Church is to submit to the Pope. The reason there are so many other denominations is right here. We do not want to submit. We want autonomy. But St. Paul is our example. Few of us have as good a reason to separate from St. Peter as he did. Yet, he submitted himself to Peter. He looked for unity. So he came to Jerusalem to visit Peter.
As Galatians continues, we see that there was a time when a dispute arose between Peter and Paul. But I will save that for a future reflection. For the time, the lesson for me is that I need to visit Peter (the Pope)- through his writings- and submit to what he teaches.