Sunday, August 24, 2014

praying for our Pope

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time A
Christ the King Topeka
24 August 2014
Daily Readings

Catholics don't elect their Pope, the visible head and authoritative voice and the recognized Papa or father or the family that is the Catholic Church.  Catholics don't elect their pope, they pray for their pope.  When a new pope is to be elected, Catholics pray for the election, that they would receive through the work of the Holy Spirit a holy pope, a good shepherd who teaches and governs and acts after the heart and mind of Christ.  For the Pope is the vicar of Christ, given as we see in Matthew's Gospel the authority of Christ himself, to bind the faithful together and to forgive sins, and to unlock the very gates of heaven.  Such a role given to a sinful man, first. St. Peter, and then to his successors, is absurd when we think about it.  Yet as St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, how inscrutable are the ways of God.  God is amazing.  He is good.  But he is also strange. God is impossible to figure out.  His ways are not our ways.  He goes right when we think He should go left.  He writes straight with crooked lines, as we often say.  His ways are not our ways.  He has entrusted his Church, and the message and means of salvation, to sinful men throughout history.  He chose Peter, who at one moment is courageous, the next fearful.  Who at one moment is stepping out obediently in faith, and walking on water, and the next telling Jesus how things should go, and that Jesus will never wash his feet.  Peter confesses Jesus, then denies him, then confesses his love for him again.

What a dramatic and strange figure Peter is.  The history and tradition of the Catholic Church is strange.  How she still exists is a miracle.  Yet stranger are the ways of God.  Jesus heals and forgives many in establishing that the kingdom of heaven is near, yet only to Peter does he give the supernatural ability to walk on water, and to confess the truth faith on behalf of all disciples.  Only to Peter does he give a new name, calling him the Rock of faith, a term usually reserved for describing the Lord himself, and a Rock that will prevail against every evil.

How strange are the ways of God - entrusting and guaranteeing his Church and the truths and means of salvation to sinful men, and choosing only celibate men to re-present the saving sacrifice of Christ who appeared and was crucified and rose in his male body.  Only men are chosen for this leadership role of ruling, teaching and sanctifying, and we must be obedient to them to be Catholic, and yet strangely, that same Church that relies so much on the role and ministry of the Pope and priests, does not celebrate Peter as the most important member of the Church.  The Pope is our papa and visible head, but he is not the most important.   No, strangely, the Catholic Church above all world religions celebrates a lady as the first and greatest and most powerful member of the Church.  The Catholic Church celebrates and honors Mary not Peter as playing the greatest role in the history of salvation, a role that She still has today interceding for the Church as our mother and our queen, showing the world how to receive and give birth to  Christ, and interceding and winning for her children the gift of life, the gift of eternal life, as only a mother can.

In today's Scriptures we are invited to pray for our Pope, for we know that it is God's will that the faith of the Church rises and falls with the confession of St. Peter.  God's ways are strange.  We do not always receive a holy Pope.  In God's strange ways he might accomplish his purposes without a Holy Pope, or without holy bishops or priests for that matter.  But we pray for our leaders.  It is the greatest privilege of my life that I was able to meet in person my hero, the one I want to be more like than anyone else, our late Holy Father Saint John Paul the Great, Saint John Paul II.  I would not be a priest were it not for his courageous and holy example of what a priest should be, and what the Church is called to be.  As soon as I encountered him, I wanted to be like him.  After I met him in person, I had to try the priesthood as potentially the greatest thing I could do with my life, and my deepest calling.  I loved Pope Benedict XVI as well, and considered him a holy man, although that opinion was not shared universally.  I feel prophetically challenged by Pope Francis, who is encouraging me, and all of us, to get bloody and dirty in showing Christian charity, knowing that the world will not believe in Jesus or his Church unless Catholics humbly and sacrifically serve the most vulnerable in imitation of Christ.

Catholics don't elect our Popes.  We pray for them, and all our leaders, that through their confession and service our Church might become stronger, strong enough to bring the message of salvation against every obstacle in our modern times.  Strong enough to prevail against the gates of hell.  Amen.