We cardinals here in Rome – – along with all our brothers in the Sacrament of Holy Orders – – take our task of teachers of the faith very seriously.These days in the Eternal City offer us a welcome occasion to do that. I sure have enjoyed my meetings with people here, especially the journalists, who give me the chance to teach.
It’s clear to me that there are quite a few misconceptions out there about the church. Let me mention a few to you.
One would be that the Pope has a divine status in the Church. True, while Catholics love the Holy Father, and consider loyalty to him a virtue, we hardly consider him divine! He is the Successor of St. Peter, whom we believe Jesus appointed earthly pastor of His Church (Mt. 16). And anyone familiar with St. Peter, as shown in the New Testament, knows that he was far from divine! In fact, our first Pope was a big sinner. He denied even knowing Jesus at the very time the Lord needed his friend Peter the most.
An inquirer even used the word “worshiper” when referring to us Catholics in relation to the Pope. That’s malarkey! We can only worship the one true God, not any mere mortal, no matter how revered his office may be, or we violate the first commandment.
A second common misperception is that a new Pope can “change doctrine.” That, of course, is impossible. Catholicism is a revealed religion, meaning we believe that God has told us about Himself and about the meaning of life, primarily by sending us His Son as the “Word made flesh.”
To preserve this truth, to “pass on” the faith to our children, is at the very essence of the Church, and the “job description” of the Pope. He cannot change the deposit of faith.
Some have the impression that we are electing a man who has a “platform,” who can decide new “policies” for the Church. We are not.
Yes, a new Pope can develop fresh, new strategies to better, and more effectively, teach the doctrines of the faith. In fact, this is a big part of what we call the New Evangelization: to express the timeless truths of the faith – – especially the message and mystery of the Person who called himself the Truth, Jesus – – in a timely, radiant, more compelling way.
Remember the way Good Pope John explained it on the eve of the opening of the Second Vatican Council? The faith of the Church is a gift that cannot be altered, he remarked. But, the way this gift is “wrapped” can! That is always a challenge for a Pope.
In other words, the how of our teaching can change; the what of it cannot.
Because, as Billy Graham used to say, the aim of life is to change our lives to conform to God’s will, not to change God’s will to match ours. We let God re-create us in His image; we do not attempt to create God in our image!
Finally, some tease me that we are here to elect a “new boss.” Yes, while I look forward to pledging my obedience to our new Holy Father, I also recognize that his ancient title is “servant of the servants of God.” Following Jesus, he will be elected to serve, not to be served.
And, he will hardly be a “boss” who tells us what to do, but a shepherd who invites us to walk with him on a journey to eternal life in company with Jesus and His Church. As Blessed John Paul II observed, “The Church proposes, not imposes.”
There you have a view of the misunderstandings.
Keep us in prayer, please. Let’s hope we get home soon – – I’m running out of socks!