THE SCANDAL OF CHRIST, THE CHURCH, AND THE POPE
By Fr. Stephanos Pedrano, O.S.B., Monk and Priest of Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, California
Christ was a scandal, a stumbling block. As far as his earthly neighbors could tell, he was merely a man of flesh and blood, and yet he dared to forgive sins with the authority of God. He dared to uphold that he had come down from heaven and was the Son of God. Asserting his authority to judge all the nations at the end of history, he upheld our relationships with other human beings as the deciding factor in whether we might merit everlasting glory in heaven or everlasting torment in hell. At the Last Judgment, the least of our fellow human beings in need will have been as “vicars” of Christ, and Christ will judge our care or neglect of them as care or neglect of himself as our Lord and God. [See Mt. 25:31-46]
Forty days after he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven. He did not leave behind for us anything he had written. Instead of leaving us a book, he chose to leave behind and send to us our fellow human beings.
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” [Mt. 28:18-20]
They— mere human beings— were to dare to speak for him, just as he, a man of flesh and blood, dared to speak as God. The scandal that was Christ would continue in the scandal that is the Church and the human beings that make up the Church.
After he ascended into heaven, the first act of the human beings Christ left behind for us was to be of one accord with each other and devote themselves to prayer with each other. [See Acts 1:14]
The second act of those human beings was to renew their own number by seeking to replace the apostle Judas who had committed suicide. They had the replacement, Matthias, join the apostles in being human witnesses of Christ who gave witness to being God as a flesh-and-blood human being. In the original Greek language of the book of Acts, the role or office of being such an apostolic witness is called episkopen, meaning literally “overseeing,” and being the Greek word from which we derive the word “bishop.”
Call them apostles, overseers, or bishops— but they are still human beings, and Christ wants us to accept the testimony of human beings, just as he wanted his earthly neighbors to accept his own human, flesh-and-blood testimony that he was God personally come down from heaven.
Since creation, until the end of time, and into the everlasting Kingdom, everything for us as we stand before God is about relationships with divine persons and human persons; it is all about love of God and love of neighbor.
One of those human persons is our neighbor Pope Francis.Some Catholics who pride themselves on conserving tradition have now been contradicting traditional respect for the person of the pope in their own words. Some of them make foul, derogatory comments about Pope Francis, and they express the wish that he should die as soon as possible.
If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also. [1 Jn. 4:20-21]
The New Testament testifies that St. Peter— the first pope— was unfaithful to Christ once Christ was arrested. While Christ was under trial, Peter lied to save himself when accused of following Christ, and he went into hiding. The risen Christ brought Peter back. However, Peter’s imperfections did not all go away. Later, he and the apostle Paul were at odds over certain issues of religious observance and doctrine.
Peter was not perfect, yet he was a vicar of Christ, not merely as chief of the first apostles and holder of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, but a vicar of Christ as much as the least of Christ’s needy brothers and sisters.
Traditional and conservative Catholicism has long jumped to the defense of the pope as the Vicar of Christ, but now some Catholics who trumpet themselves as tradition-loving conservatives spout open hatred for the present Vicar of Christ. Number 936 in the Catechism of the Catholic states the traditional Catholic teaching as follows.
The Lord made St. Peter the visible foundation of his Church. He entrusted the keys of the Church to him. The bishop of the Church of Rome, successor to St. Peter, is “head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth” (Code of Canon Law, canon 331).
Number 896 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of Catholics as following with close attachment the bishop (and the pope is a bishop):The Good Shepherd ought to be the model and form of the bishop’s pastoral office. Conscious of his own weaknesses, the bishop can have compassion for those who are ignorant and erring. He should not refuse to listen to his subjects whose welfare he promotes as of his very own children. The faithful should be closely attached to the bishop as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father:
Let all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ follows his Father, and the college of presbyters as the apostles; respect the deacons as you do God's law. Let no one do anything concerning the Church in separation from the bishop. In the Creed at Sunday Mass, Catholics profess “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” We are liars in professing this Creed if we cannot embrace with respectful faith that the apostolicity of the Church depends both on having had apostles in the beginning and on still having apostles in the persons of Pope Francis and the bishops.
The Creed is not the only moment at Mass when we profess that the Church is one and apostolic. The Canon or Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass also always professes the same thing.
Here is where it appears in the Roman Canon or Eucharistic Prayer I.
To you, therefore, most merciful Father, we make humble prayer and petition through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord: that you accept and bless these gifts, these offerings, these holy and unblemished sacrifices, which we offer you firstly for your holy catholic Church. Be pleased to grant her peace, to guard, unite and govern her throughout the whole world, together with your servant Francis our Pope....
All other Eucharistic Prayers that may be used instead of the Roman Canon express the same thing. Here are two more examples.In Eucharistic Prayer II.
Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity, together with Francis our Pope....
In Eucharistic Prayer III.
Be pleased to confirm in faith and charity your pilgrim Church on earth, with your servant Francis our Pope....
Every Eucharistic Prayer ends with a doxology and the faithful answering the Eucharistic Prayer with “Amen.”
To attend the Mass, profess its Creed, say “Amen” to its Eucharistic Prayer, and receive the Eucharistic Body and Blood of Christ which we have by virtue of priests ordained by bishops in union with the pope, but to openly, disrespectfully, and hatefully denigrate the pope and wish for his hasty death is to turn one’s participation in the Mass into a grave lie. One might as well be Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper.
Fr. Stephanos Pedrano, O.S.B., Monk and Roman Catholic Priest of Prince of Peace Abbey, Oceanside, California https://www.princeofpeaceabbey.org/our-history.html