Many of you may know that there are two priests at San Pedro, but only one pastor – the priest who is entrusted with the responsibility for the spiritual and temporal care of the parish.
Any other priest assigned to the parish (such as me) is a vicar. A vicar is someone who represents or acts on behalf of another. Like a person can have trustees to administer finances or a spouse or child designated to oversee medical care, the Church has ways of delegating authority. A parish vicar can do many things the pastor does, but only with the pastor’s permission.
The practice of delegating authority has been around for a long time. The first reading this Sunday from Isaiah describes the office of the royal steward in Israel about 2,500 years ago. A steward was a kind of vicar who looked after the property and finances of his master. He was like an all-in-one banker, lawyer, foreman, and butler. Landowners and nobles had stewards, and so did the king, and the king’s steward oversaw most of the kingdom’s wealth. The authority of a steward was symbolized by keys – access to all his master’s wealth. “When he opens, no one shall shut; when he shuts, no one shall open” (Isaiah 22:22).
Remember that Jesus is the heir of the Kingdom of David, and although a king in exile, he has ministers. In the Gospel reading, Jesus gives Simon a new name (Peter) and the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Those who heard this would have understood that Jesus was making Simon his steward, with the authority to administer all his property. But heavenly authority is not just about land and money but about teaching the faith and remitting sins. Jesus chose to institute an office of vicar, a designated trustee to take care of his Church. Peter did this as leader of the Apostles, and his successors the Popes do this as leaders of the college of Bishops.
For more about the Pope as Vicar of Christ and the Head of the College of Bishops, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 880-896.