Saturday, February 16, 2013
To Catholics who are Worried about the Papal Election
Soon after the Holy Father announced his resignation, some of my Catholic friends started expressing concern and worry over the orthodoxy of his successor—“I hope they pick someone solid”—while non-practicing and non-Catholic friends openly wished for a more “liberal” pope. Both attitudes are silly, as is any attempt to speculate about the papal election through a political or factional lens.
The Catholic Church has had 260 popes throughout its history. Although some were saints, some were also fools, and some were downright evil. We as a church have endured Borgias, murderers, and more than one pope who had illegitimate children. Through it all, not one of them has ever taught or promulgated any teaching that is contrary to the Gospel and to Christ’s message. Not one of them has corrupted Tradition. Not one of them has led the church astray—however far astray their personal lives may have wandered.
Why? Because of a promise Christ made to St. Peter and, through him, to the whole Christian Church: “You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church. And the gates of Hell”—the very gates of Hell—“shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). The Holy Spirit guides and protects the Office of the Pope. Even if the man himself is a cad and unworthy of the office, the pope is more than just the head of a big church. He is in the direct line of St. Peter and is the Vicar of Christ on earth.
The secular world likes to think of the church as a political entity, likes to pretend that the pope is a world leader like any other and that his election is like a presidential election—with factions and drama, and a good chance that the “wrong man” can be elected as Obama was for Republicans or Bush was for Democrats. But this is no horse race and no democracy. The cardinals who make the election are engaged deeply in prayer, and they are acting on the inexorable pull of Divine Grace.
Our Lord gave us His own word: nothing and no one can touch or hurt the office of the pope. As a spiritual leader, it is actually impossible for him to teach anything contrary to Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. This is why the secular media and our friends of other faiths who look on the papal election as a horse race are mistaken. While their interest in our Church’s dealings is flattering, they have it 100 percent wrong. The choice of our next pope is not an election from below but an appointment from Above. The cardinals’ job is to discern what is God’s will for the Church and then implement that.
So this is not like an election for the next geopolitical Anglican leader or for the pastor-cum-president of some mega-church; it is an intrinsically different act. Believing that, with one’s whole mind and heart, is a huge part of what it means to be a Catholic. At the heart of our faith, after central truths like the Real Presence in the Eucharist and Christ’s Resurrection, is the surety that the pope is Christ’s own vicar in the line of St. Peter. He is the caretaker that Christ has put over us—in a very, very real sense. While we can hardly expect nonbelievers to agree with that, we as Catholics can bear witness to this belief by ignoring the worry and speculation about the “politics” of our next pope.
As previously noted, it is impossible for any pope to contradict Church doctrine and teaching, so the Church and its practices will not fundamentally change whoever is elected. If we do get a pope who is more “liberal” (whatever that means), his election means only that the Church needed him, and God gave us that leader for a reason.
A good friend texted me on hearing the news: “I hope they pick the holiest.” Exactly. Unlike what the media and people of other religions think, the politics are irrelevant and no one should care what silly “faction” supports him. What we do care about, or should care about, is that this man will be our spiritual father; he will represent the Rock on which Christ has built His Church. Labels of “liberal” and “conservative” do not matter where the pope is concerned; whoever he is, our concern is only to love and follow him, assured that the “gates of Hell” shall not prevail against the Church he leads. We as a Church should disregard the speculation and simply pray that our next pope will be the holiest—whoever he may be.
at 8:30 AM