In artwork, sculptures and through regalia, St. Peter–as well as the Catholic church–are recognised by the symbol of the two crossed keys. The story goes that following the profession of his new-found faith, Peter was entrusted with the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.Matthew 16:19
On the day of Pentecost, St. Peter, in the presence of the other apostles, speaks a message. The keys were a metaphor to open the kingdom; to invite hearers in and to build the church. Up until this point, it was only Jesus who preached to the disciples. Pentecost, which takes place on the 50th day after Easter Sunday, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus Christ.
Continuing on from this metaphor, I would like to ask–who holds the key to your future? Is there a Book of Life in which all our futures are already inscribed before we are born? Or is our brief and fleeting sojourn on earth paving the way for a future that is yet to be?
It is the future we long to know, see and grasp with our hands. The keys, then, are a symbol for the future that awaits each individual soul as well as humanity as a whole. It is a future that we are all collectively called to co-create together.
We are the world and through the keys that have been entrusted to us; we co-create our future.
The Fisher of Men
From the Austronesians to the Vikings, those who have sought to make their living in the sea have at times–but not always–gone on to chart uncharted terrains. Fishermen of all ages have been voyagers. They possess, within their spirit, a shared destiny of getting washed up on shores that are not their home. They settle upon new shores and create new homes. The world is their oyster.
The same could be said of the journey of St. Peter. He would go on to be regarded as the Apostle to the Gentiles; while his contemporary, the far more cosmopolitan St. Paul, would receive the accolade as the Apostle of the Jews.
St. Paul was a man of both education and status. It can be deduced that he was groomed for greatness; or at the very least, was far more likely to achieve it. St. Paul was multilingual, well-versed in scripture and was actively involved in politics. Both St. Paul and St.Peter would go on to become titans. They were the Patriarchs of the Apostolic Age. One was rural and the other cosmopolitan. One lived his early life in simplicity while the other was born into privilege.
There is an old Asian proverb regarding the oak and the bamboo; that it is impossible to compare the two for each has its own role to play. But we humans never cease to make such meaningless comparisons.
What brought Paul and Peter together was not only a shared destiny, but a fate that weaved their life stories together.
St. Peter’s original name is Simon. He was later given the name Cephas by Jesus; which means rock, stone or even precious jewel. The Gospels and Acts portray Peter as the most prominent apostle. This is despite the assertion that he denied Jesus three times during the events of the crucifixion.
Since St. Peter was the first to whom Jesus appeared, the leadership of Peter forms the basis of the Apostolic succession. St. Peter is described as ‘the rock’ upon which the church was built.
To symbolise this unbroken succession, the Piscatory Ring–known as the Ring of the Fisherman–is an official aspect of the regalia worn by the Pope. It represents a long line of succession that goes all the way back to St. Peter, who was a fisherman by trade. The symbolism is derived from the tradition that the Apostles were “fishers of men”.
The Imperishable Inheritance
What would it feel like to know, in your heart of hearts, that endless riches have been planned for you; and that you are the bearer of a future reward that could never be seized from you?
Toil and struggle characterise our daily lives. This occurs and reoccurs regardless of our spiritual beliefs, wealth, status and social standing. In the face of all that is difficult about life–and all that we must endure–it seems almost like a pipe dream to believe that endless riches have been planned for you.
If wealth alone could solve all our woes, then we wouldn’t hear stories of how lonely celebrities are. We wouldn’t see the sadness in their eyes despite the joy they bring to the world. It is easy to judge others. What is more difficult is to create the future that only you can create. No one else can do it for you. No one else can play the part that you are destined to play in the grand story called life.
to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.1 Peter 1:5
St. Peter used three negative terms to describe the concept of our true inheritance: “imperishable,” “undefiled,” and “unfading”. These three words call on us to envisage an inheritance that is not susceptible to death, malicious intent and the effects of time. We need never to fear or grieve the loss of our true inheritance, since it is thoughtfully guarded.
In life, we often find ourselves ‘stuck’ with what we have inherited from those who were on this earth before our arrival. From their material possessions, to their mental patterning; it may sometimes seem that there is no escape from the prison bars of what we view as a terrible legacy.
This deep fear of loss and lack drives some people to hoard as much stuff around them as possible so that they can feel secure–even if it is people, possessions and mindsets they do not want and no longer need. Firstly, we need to remember that anytime we suffer–be it from a loss or a lack–it never lasts forever. A breakthrough or turning point emerges and our suffering ends.
Through our experience of temporal pain, our True Self emerges and is revealed. By undergoing certain pressures we would have rather avoided, we realise who we are and what we are made of.
When we understand how to endure suffering with dignity, we find not only peace, but also wisdom. Through that wisdom, we realise that the keys to the kingdom were within us all along. The keys belong to everyone. All we have to do is have faith that we possess them.
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.1 Peter 1:6-7