Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Pope We Need

On Tuesday of this week, the 115 cardinal-electors will begin the process of fulfilling their most sacred office: the election of the bishop of Rome, the Supreme Pontiff, the Holy Father; that is, the Pope. The princes of the Church will pray and reflect and deliberate about which among them would best fit the Shoes of the Fisherman for this time in the life of the Church. What will they be looking for?

Were you to listen to the voices of the professional public speculators, they will tell you (based on little more information than you or I have) that the cardinals will seek to find a figure from the Third World to symbolize the Church's burgeoning population there; or that they will determine which of the Italians is most palatable, so as to return the See of Rome to the hands of a native son; or that they will desire an "ideological moderate" who can bridge the gap between the fractious and contentious camps that divide the Church. (I'm more inclined to think that the divisions in the Church are less about "conservatives vs. liberals," or "conviction Catholics vs. cafeteria Catholics," but rather "the passionate vs. the apathetic." That's a subject for another time.)

Whether this is the case, I couldn't tell you. Some news reports from fairly reliable sources indicate that many of the cardinals' top priorities include cleaning up the Vatican bureaucracy, being able to engage the secular world, and being a good exemplar of strength of character and personal holiness. These are all certainly desirable traits, and I think they relate to a larger theological vision of the pope we need.

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who taught us the truth, died for our sins, rose from the dead, and brought life to the world, is the Messiah promised by God to His people Israel. The Messiah was to unite in himself the three most important duties of Israel: priest, prophet, and king. He was to offer sacrifice for the propitiation of sin, to announce God's word to humanity, and to rule over it in justice. Not only that, He Himself is the sacrifice offered, the Word that is preached, the Justice that is rendered.

Christ established a Church to carry out the continuation of this mission. He established his Twelve Apostles as the cornerstones of His Church ("as the Father has sent me, so I send you"), and St. Peter as their head, the Rock ("upon this Rock I will build my Church"). He ordained that they (and Peter especially) should be the heads of His people, teaching them true doctrine, governing them in harmony and justice, sanctifying them through the sacraments. The Apostles were to carry on these messianic offices for God's people. The Apostles, in turn, appointed the bishops and priests who would follow them, and instructed them to do likewise. So the bishops, and most especially the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter, from then to do today have carried on fulfilling the prophetic, kingly, and priestly roles of teaching, governing, and sanctifying, participating in the one prophetic spirit, the one priesthood, the one kingship of Christ.

The pope we need is the man who will best teach, govern, and sanctify the Church. The pope we need will spread the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ with passion and joy, teaching the truth with clarity and charity. The pope we need will rule the universal Church with justice, redressing wrongs and protecting rights, maintaining ordered harmony within the Body of Christ. The pope we need will be a model of holiness and devotion, fostering frequent reception of the sacraments and reverent celebration of their rites, bringing people to the fountain of God's grace and helping them to be properly disposed to their worthy reception.

Cleaning up the Curia would be a good act of governance. Encouraging the New Evangelization would be a good act of prophecy. Being an exemplar of holiness would be a good act of priestliness. Would it be nice if the man elected were from a Third World country? Sure, but only provided first, as with any potential candidate, that he fit the above description. I don't know which of the men entering the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday would best fulfill this role. I only pray that the Holy Spirit guide them into choosing him.


  1. Stated with beauty and truth, Dear Nick! Keep up the fine work of sharing with us your learned views. (I know, I know - you're still learning; Thank God)! Love you!
    Grandpa Jake