Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why We Love Our Pope

Yesterday, we got the very exciting news just before Mass that our new pope had been selected.  However, by 5 minutes before Mass we still didn't have a name.  I was tempted to stay and watch the live feed, to excuse myself from daily mass on the grounds that this was more exciting, but I realized what an error that would have been.  After all, Jesus was the real reason that I even cared about the Pope.

There's several common misunderstanding that Protestants have about the Catholic relationship to the Pope, and perhaps my temptation to stay and watch his announcement rather than go to Mass is an example of why they hold these misconceptions.  The first misconception is that we hold him as being more important than Christ.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He is not even close to being of equal importance to Christ, let alone above Christ in authority.

The second misconception most Protestants have about the Catholic relationship to the Pope is that we believe he is equal in status to Christ.  I can understand where they are coming from, since we hold that the Pope stands "In Persona Christi" which means literally "in the person of Christ".  This doesn't mean he is equal in status, but that the face of that pope is the face that Christ wears for a time.  Christ is still the head of the Church, the source and summit of all that we do and are and believe.  It is simply that Christ recognizes our humanity, he knows that a head without a face tends to creep us out, and so he gives us the face we need for the moment - a face that reflects his current thoughts about where we are as a people and as a body.  He gives us the face we need - at times gentle, at times protective, at times thoughtful, at times roaring in anger at the damage being done to His body.

The third misconception most Protestants have about the Catholic relationship to the Pope is that we think he's perfect, that he can't make mistakes.  This is simply rubbish, but I can understand where the misconception has crept in to the minds of the uneducated.  When a Catholic speaks about Papal infallibility, it doesn't mean that the Pope can't make mistakes.  What Papal infallibility means is that through an act of divine grace by the power of the Holy Spirit, when the Pope makes a proclamation on matters of faith and morals - speaking from the chair of St. Peter in communion with the bishops - he is protected from error.

There have been plenty of popes who have sinned, some quite gravely, and not every Pope will go on to become a saint.  When they make a proclamation about who is going to win in the World Series or place a bet on a soccer team, they are not protected from error.  These are worldly concerns and God does not intervene in this matter.  However, when it comes to protecting the faithful from going astray, there is no one more vigilant and more watchful than Christ for His Bride.  He will directly intervene in order to protect and defend her, sending the Holy Spirit as His agent to ensure that she stays pure, holy, and blameless.

If you're thinking to yourself that the Church has too many sinners to be considered pure, holy, or blameless and too many sinful acts attributed to her, you don't understand the Church at all.  You see, the Church is a hospital for Sinners.  Inside that Hospital, Christ tends the wounds of all his servants - priest, layperson, pope, bishop, deacon - all of them are wounded.  The Church is pure not because of who is within her but because she is perfectly obedient to the will of God in doing as He has created her to do and continuing to tend those wounds, continuing to draw those wounded to her, continuing to open her doors to those who need her most.  This is how we can say that the Church is pure and holy though her people are not.

And this is why we love our Pope: Because He is the face of Jesus for us; because he reminds us that Christ has promised us that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, because He reminds us that Christ is with us no matter how badly we may have failed in the past and no matter how badly we may fail in the future.  Habemus Papam! We rejoice!!

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