Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Why be afraid of the Pope?

Pope John Paul II published his biggest bestseller "Crossing the Threshold of Hope"  in 1994. The first chapter is entitled "The Pope"  A Scandal and a Mystery.

With some Anglicans in England deciding in Synod to form a Society of Sts Wilfrid and Hilda to "fight on for the catholic faith" within Anglicanism, this society becomes an alternative to the Ordinariates offered by Rome. This has sparked a lively discussion in the Anglo Catholic blog. This comes on the coattails of news that a TAC bishop in the USA will not join the Ordinariate.

I am of the opinion that if these Anglo Catholics cannot yet accept the ministry of the Pope of Rome, then it would be best if they try to soldier on for the catholic faith in Anglicanism and muster the needed courage to take that plunge. But perhaps it would help us if we can reflect on the most muddleheaded and weak willed of the Apostles. His name is Peter. John Paul II in his book starts off with the challenge from God "Be not afraid". Mary, Joseph, all the saints and martyrs came to a point in their lives where this challenge was offered.

My favourite episode in the Gospel is the one about catching a lot of fish (Luke 5). I can relate to this since as a marine scientist, I go on boats, try to collect specimens and oftentimes fail to get them. If some idiot at the end of the day tells me to go one more time at sea, I would say "Will you leave me alone. I am tired"

The same thing confronted Simon Peter. But probably in trying to convince Jesus that there is none to catch, he agreed to do as Jesus told him "Duc in Altum" or launch into deep water. That indeed is the best metaphor for faith. Now I am reminded about my folks convincing couples to "take the plunge" into marriage. That too is a sign of faith. I like Duc in Altum since a lot of aquatic animals have altum in their scientific names!

Peter upon realizing his foolishness said to Jesus "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man". This is a challenge to Jesus and being God this is something he cannot do! Jesus challenged Peter to be not afraid and be fishers of men.

According to John Paul II, the office of the Papacy lies on this statement alone. A man so much as a sinner like Peter can carry on an office of immense importance. Over the years we have called the Pope as "His Holiness" "Vicar of Christ"  or "Supreme Pontiff". In the Reformation, some were scandalized by these titles and in their fear called the Pope as "Antichrist".  In our human weakness most likely due to fear of the unknown, we cannot accept the Pope's ministry.

And Peter himself could not accept (out of fear) even until the fact of the Resurrection that a man like Jesus who claimed to be Divine can be treated in a horrible way. But when the Spirit revealed to Peter who Jesus really is, he never denied him again.

And that is the issue at the heart of a Catholic life. Can we accept the authority of a mere man, a Bishop of Rome but our servant first, because Christ willed it as such?

Perhaps we can reflect on St Augustine's words to dispel the doubts "Vobis sum episcopus, vobiscum christianus"

I am a bishop for you but a Christian with you.

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