Posted by: fvbcdm | May 2, 2014

Feast of Saint Athanasius (2 May 2014)

Last night, around our dinner table the conversation was, as you can imagine, about the activities in Rome concerning the death, lying-in-state, and funeral of Pope John Paul, and then the coming conclave in which the cardinals will elect the new pope.  One of our men remarked that not all the money in the world could buy all the publicity that the Church is receiving right now, and must of it is positive, thank Heaven.  Certainly, we have received enough negative publicity in the past few years.

In this regard, I would like to share with you two conversations that I had years ago, which indicate to me the value of the papacy and the awareness of this even by Christians outside the Church.  When I was in college, one of our professors here at Loyola University was a devout Episcopalian who attended religious services daily at Christ Church Cathedral, the Episcopal cathedral just a few blocks from where I lived in those days.  This man, Dr. Alexander Warrington, became a Catholic during my years there in college.  One day I asked him about his conversion and what led to it. “It was my reading,” he replied. “History leads one into the Catholic Church. I resisted it as long as I could, but finally had to admit that Catholicism is the true church founded by Christ and that I therefore had the obligation to enter it.”  I asked him what about other Episcopalians.  “Many of them don’t have any particular interest in history, and therefore don’t know much about it.  They simply accept what has been told them about the Catholic Church all their lives, and see no reason to enter it.”  I went on to ask about the Episcopalian clergy.  He replied, with a twinkle in his eye, “They don’t sleep well at night.”  By that he meant the constant spiritual and mental struggles that many of them deal with in terms of their own theological positions and the temptation to become Catholic.

Later, when I was in the seminary, I came to know a Lutheran pastor from Ohio.  I met him at an ecumenical convention during the exciting days when [Saint] John XXIII was pope and interest in the ecumenical movement was extremely high. I said to him, “Where do you see all of this ecumenical activity leading us?”  His answer was astonishing.  He said, “Well, first you Catholics and we Lutherans must get our houses in order.  Then, we simply name a committee of theologians and other churchmen who can sit down and iron out our differences and then we reunite under the pope.”  I could hardly believe what I heard. Here was an active Lutheran pastor of a large church in Ohio advocating the reunion of our two churches UNDER THE POPE!   So I asked him whether or not his Lutheran colleagues considered him some sort of a radical nut for holding this view. “Oh, no,” he replied,”they know that there can never be unity without a single authority figure at the head of the church.  Whether we call him ‘pope’ or by some other title, it amounts to the same thing. Without authority there can be no unity.”

As the world watches, the Church lays one pope to rest after a magnificent pontificate and prepares to choose his successor.  And we can and should all be deeply grateful to Our Divine Lord for the gift of the Church, and for the institution of the papacy within the Church. Christ said of himself: “I am the good shepherd.”  And then he told Saint Peter, “Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.”  In other words, you are to shepherd my flock in my place.  That is why we call the pope “the Vicar of Christ.”  A vicar is one who takes the place of, and represents, another. The pope is the living human being who takes the place of, and represents, Our Lord.  Saint  Catherine of Siena used to call him, “Sweet Christ on earth.”  This did not so much reflect her personal feeling toward the man himself, with whom she had difficulties and differences of opinion.  It reflected her deep devotion to the office of the papacy which is such a great gift to all of us, and leads God’s people through this life into eternity.   Thank you for seeking God’s truth, God Bless you, Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago


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