21st Sunday of Ordinary Time:
It is no secret that Pope Francis is one of the most interesting and engaging persons in our time. I was born during the short reign of John Paul I. I lived most of my life with John Paul II as my pope. I spent most of my seminary and priesthood under Pope Benedict XVI. I can say without a doubt that I would not be a priest if it were not for John Paul II. His beautiful witness to the truths of the faith was compelling to me as a young man. I can also say, that Pope Benedict was a huge influence on me in a theological way. Having read a number of his books, his theology helped to shape the way I think about the truths of the faith. John Paul II and Benedict were great popes and good men. But, they did not seem to generate the same kind of excitement and enthusiasm as Pope Francis, especially among non-Catholics. It will be exciting to see how Pope Francis continues to lead and guide the Church.
But, these men all had one thing in common: the held the office of Bishop of Rome, they were popes. I have always found the papacy to be an interesting aspect of Church history. There have been great popes, there have been sinful popes. There have been crusading popes, there have been peaceful popes. There have been brilliant and scholarly popes, there have been simple and humble popes. Yet, all of these men are successors of St. Peter.
The papacy is quite controversial really. I know that most non-Catholics probably think of Pope Francis as a spokesperson for the Catholic Church. But, he is ever so much more than that. He is the supreme teacher of Christianity in the whole world. He has all the legislative authority in the Church. Pope Francis has direct and supreme authority in all matters in the Church everywhere in the world. He would never do this, but if he wanted to, Pope Francis could call me up and tell me to go to a different parish or a different country for that matter. Throughout history, this office of the papacy has caused some divisions and problems. One of the major issues separating the Orthodox Christians in the East is the role of the pope. But rather than being a source of division, I think the office of the papacy is a wonderful gift from God that provides the Church with unity and stability.
Today in the gospel we hear Peter professing his faith in Christ, and we hear Jesus say: you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church. I think the office of the pope is important for precisely these two reasons: the proclamation of the faith and the rock established by Christ.
First, the task of the pope is to proclaim the faith. At the heart of the whole Christian message is this fundamental truth: Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. Yet, this truth has to be presented to new generations from the time of Christ until he comes again. Rather than simply leaving us a book, Christ left us a voice. The pope is, for us, an authoritative voice telling us the truth of the faith. Since he is guided by the Holy Spirit, we can trust that the Holy Father will lead us and guide us and that he will always be faithful to the fundamental proclamation of the faith. John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis all have different styles, but they are believers in Christ and they guide us in the faith. Rather than seeing this as a limit to my human freedom, I find having the pope as an authentic guide is truly liberating. I don’t have to make up the truths of the faith on my own, I get to receive them as a gift from the Church.
Second, the pope is a rock. We certainly live in trying times. I know that many of us are quite disturbed by the many crazy things going on in our world. Whether it be the Ebola outbreak, war in Israel, violence and riots in our own country, the terrible execution of that reporter in Iraq. Sometimes it seems a bit too much to take. And yet Christ knew that we would need a rock. He knew that we would need something solid. This is the Church. No matter what we might face in this life, we have the Church as our true home. We have the pope as our leader in the faith. Though the wind and the waves might rock us from time to time, we have a rock foundation that will never collapse. I find great comfort in this.
The pope probably has the most difficult job on the planet. If it were merely a human institution it would have failed eons ago. His office was established by Christ, and he fulfills his mission by the power of the Spirit. My friends we have a grave responsibility to pray for the Pope. Ask God to strengthen and guide him. But we also have a wonderful gift in the pope, he is our rock that will proclaim until the end of time: you are Christ, the son of the living God.