Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on May 1, 2015.
I will begin today’s post by comparing the structure of the Catholic Church to a somewhat “elementary” thing. Let me give you some word clues. Hopscotch. Foursquare. Kickball. Red Rover. Before I confuse you anymore please let me briefly explain the context to why I am talking about children’s playground games and religion in the same paragraph.
During this past year I worked at a Catholic high school and taught Old and New Testament. On the day we discussed the epic first century saints Peter and Paul, I gave my students a simple analogy. A healthy Catholic Church is likened to a game of tetherball. To better help you understand what I mean precisely with that example please let us first discuss why Peter and Paul are important to Christianity.
Stability of the Rock
Matthew 16:16-19 has Peter clearly stating the identity of Jesus Christ and thereafter he is entrusted with the “keys to the kingdom of Heaven”. Catholics interpret this passage as hard and fast proof for the papacy. To cite Fr. Robert Barron in his book Catholicism [referring to Peter’s special insight], “And this knowledge did not come from Peter’s native intelligence or from an extraordinary education…It came as a gift from God, a special charism of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 121). Thus, God chose a pope from the very beginning to be that stability upon we, as Catholics, can rely on. If the Church had multiple heads its teachings would devolve into something ugly–like the multi-head monster in Greek myth– the hydra. In a similar way, the center-post in a tetherball game provides stability for the game to happen.
Creativity of a Theologian
Now let’s turn our attention to St. Paul. While the popes enjoy the office of St. Peter and provide stability to the Catholic Church, having this Petrine element alone would make Her teachings dry and rocky. Thus, to balance out the papacy there is a need for theology to make the Church healthy.
After Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 until the end of the book, the saint is literally always on the move. As I told my students, “Paul does not have biblical ADD, but rather he was the spark of life that started the early Christian churches”. Citing from Fr. Barron again, “Paul stands for mission, the engagement of the culture and proclamation. Every missionary, teacher, preacher, and theologian, is, in this sense, a son or daughter of Paul.” (p. 141). Paul represents an archetype within the Catholic Church to adapt to different times and cultures. He represents the spunk that enlivens the Church. Going back to the tetherball analogy the rope and ball provide the excitement for the playground game.
Structure + Flexibility= Healthy Church
A healthy Church needs both structure (papacy) and flexibility (theology). So too does a tetherball game needs the center-post= [representing the papacy/Petrine element] and the rope and ball= [representing theology/Pauline element].
The schoolyard game would be pointless if a center-post did not exist to keep the ball close for the players to bat around. At the same time a game consisting of only a metal pole would be stagnant and boring. Similarly, the Catholic Church without the dynamic element St. Paul brought in the first century and whose memory represents today.
Which playground game is God’s favorite? I would imagine that God has all the time in the world to try them all and find them equally enjoyable, but if I had to venture a guess I would pick tetherball! 🙂
God bless you and your priesthood, dear Holy Father. For it is in this mysterious gift the papacy rests in your hands, stirs in your heart, and witnesses with your life.
Providence has brought you to us. I am always grateful for Providence. I am a spiritual daughter of St. Mother Theodore Guerin, the foundress of the Sisters of Providence in Terre Haute, Ind. In the 1980s, I was taught by her capable nuns whose one thread of thought was always to focus on God’s Providence.
God’s Plan Revealed Over Time
In God’s Providence, he put a man at the head of his Holy Catholic Church, starting with St. Peter who he asked three very poignant and straightforward questions. They are questions that each pope has answered through every century and ones you must ask yourself every day.
Christ asked Peter if he loved him three times (John 21:15-17) Answering ‘Yes’ each time, Jesus then commanded Peter to “Feed my Sheep,” instituting the role of the pope as the Good Shepherd. How vivid an image that does not change through the centuries of Christ’s Church but grows stronger.
How many times Our Lord spoke of the Good Shepherd protecting his flock, laying down His life for them, and keeping the wolves at bay. What a beautiful role you have been given by God himself.
A Rock to Hold on During the Storm
The times are weary and evil, like many other times the Church has weathered, and yet it finds you at the head of the church during an unprecedented time in history. We are a society entrenched in the greatest technology and the greatest sins that cry to heaven. Abortion rates skyrocket, infanticide in the womb, sodomy without shame, lack of shame in all areas of sexual life, and the pillaging of the poor despite these great technological advances infect our culture.
There is no cure for cancer and many Christians live like unbelievers forgetting the great grace of the Eucharistic Lord.
The papacy gives hope to world. Other sounds reverberate around the world. Words of Our Holy Father that are questioned, scrutinized, taken out of context, and at times cause alarm. That is for you and your cardinals to decide how to clarify while upholding the dogma of the Catholic Church that has sustained us for more than 2,000 years.
Support Our Holy Father
My job as a faithful lay Catholic is to pray for unity and to meet this culture as the great St. John Paul II told us to back in 1978, “Be Not Afraid.” The pope has many titles but the most endearing is Servant of the Servants of God. The Pope washes our feet, uplifts our hearts, and can never cease to lead us to truth, beauty, and goodness (Philippians 4:8.)
All this noise and distraction about your papacy—you were elected on my birthday— is the noisy clang of the chain the devil is attached to. He is straining hard to be unleashed.
Did not the reverent Cardinal Sarah say, “”The truth is that the church is represented on earth by the vicar of Christ, that is by the pope. And whoever is against the pope is, ipso facto, outside the church.” What a holy cardinal you have supporting you in God’s Providence!
In 1978, when St. John Paul II took office there wasn’t the Internet, cellphones, and social media. Communism was alive when John Paul II was elected. A brick wall in Germany reminded us of the stark reality. Pope John Paul II lived through Nazism and a communist rule so what better Lion of Judah to come out roaring on the balcony of St. Peter’s proclaiming “Be Not Afraid.”
That proclamation is relevant today for the papacy and for the people of the Catholic Church. Today, we face new fears, new evils, and new trials but we say “Be Not Afraid.”
Different, Yet the Same
Your entry onto the balcony of St. Peter’s was quite different for quite a different papacy formed in God’s Providence. You came out more as a startled dove, surprised at the support and deep love showered on you from the people below your papal balcony. That love of the people has sustained the papacy through generations.
Accept that love, dearest Holy Father, for we love you. The sheep of the Good Shepherd follow your voice.
We seek your answer just as Christ sought Peter’s answer. For we are do what Christ did.
We ask you: Do you love us, Holy Father? Do you want to feed us? The faithful will keep asking you this. They will ask every pope that comes after you these same questions posed first by Christ.
You asked us to pray for you that first night and we should honor that request every day. The Gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church that Christ founded. Christ’s promises are true even among the greatest sins. If the world as we know it does change, then the prayer we pray at every Mass, “Thy Kingdom Come,” has been fulfilled in great joy and Providence.
Hell has not triumphed in that instance and never will. Christ has triumphed. God’s laws are always fulfilled even when the mystery of it leaves us in awe.
Dear Holy Father, who follows a long line of popes both good and bad, I say to you as a faithful Catholic: “You are in my prayers” and “Be Not Afraid.” I say to my fellow Catholics hurt by the Church: “Be Not Afraid.” St. John Paul II set the example by teaching us to face the millennium we now live in with hope.
As St. Mother Theodore Guerin said to her nuns and her students that came after her down through the generations, “Put yourself gently into the hands of Providence. Trusting all your affairs to Him and putting them also under the protection of Mary and Joseph, you will see that all will be well”
This is my prayer for you and the entire Church. Heaven’s best to you dear Holy Father.
Your humble daughter,
About the author
Jennifer Lindberg is a wife and mother to six children. She is an award-winning journalist with first-place awards from the Associated Press. Jennifer left secular journalism after seeing John Paul II in Split, Croatia. This prompted her to begin a career in the Catholic press and writing for non-profits. She writes at www.thinkingfromhope and has an Instagram account by the same name. Follow her there, as she talks about hope, Catholicism, lifestyle, and the beauty of faith.
1.“Put yourself gently into the hands of Providence.” The quote comes from a letter written by Mother Theodore, dated March 27, 1854, to Cecile (Le Fer De La Motte) Choisnet, the younger sister of Sisters Mary Joseph and St. Francis Xavier. It is hoped that the encouragement Mother Theodore offers her “beloved Cecile” will provide inspiration for all who visit her shrine.
“You will not be offended, and you will allow me to say, and repeat, that you ought not to give way to uneasiness about the future.Put yourself gently into the hands of Providence. Trusting all your affairs to Him and putting them also under the protection of Mary and Joseph, you will see that all will be well.” Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.
4. Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, said the people who portray him as an opponent of Pope Francis are being used by the devil to help divide the church.
“The truth is that the church is represented on earth by the vicar of Christ, that is by the pope. And whoever is against the pope is, ipso facto, outside the church,” the cardinal said in an interview published Oct. 7 in Corriere della Sera, an Italian daily.
Who are you? This is normally the first question we either ask a person or obtain an answer upon meeting someone for the first time. The Gospel reading for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time is Matthew 16:13-20—AKA the institution of the papacy. Jesus asks his apostles the following question, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13). Having performed many miracles and healings, along with teaching with great teaching authority from God, Jesus elicited a decisive reply from his apostles. Rumors were circulating about the identity of Jesus: Herod claimed he was really John the Baptist [see Matthew 14:1-2] others viewed him as a profound teacher [see Matthew 8:18]. Confusion existed over the uniqueness and purpose of Jesus’ mission during his time on earth.
Peter outlines the various rumors already circulating about in ancient Palestine: Jesus is a reincarnation of old prophets or even John the Baptist [who was beheaded back in Matthew 14!]. Instead of chastising the fisherman, Jesus continues to question: “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15). I have heard this gospel reading dozens of times now. The problem I struggle with as I grow older is that discovering newness to a biblical passage occurs less and less as the years pass. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, I was able to find a new perspective on Matthew 16:13-20. Let me explain three ways I viewed this passage in a newer light.
1. Questioning is good: Skeptics gets a bad rap from supporters of religion. The word skeptic is defined as a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions. According to this definition, I most certainly am considered a skeptic at least when it comes to the first half of the definition. I question nearly everything. I ask probably at least a hundred questions a day- both at work and home. Sometimes I feel that people get irritated when I ask so many questions. Whether this belief is founded or not depends on the tone and manner upon which I query. People who genuinely are curious about truth and honestly strive to gain knowledge about the world should not feel guilty about questioning. “There are no such things are a dumb question,” I remember many of my elementary and high school teachers telling me and fellow students.
In other words, a moderate amount of skepticism is good and healthy. Without skepticism we venture to the other side of the spectrum of belief—naivety! Matthew 16:13:20 presents Jesus as a questioner. Twice he asks Peter about who he thinks Jesus really is. Peter’s claim is that Jesus is the Christ—the anointed One from God.
Now, this claim was not simple religious gullibility. Peter and the Apostles spent a lot of time with Jesus traveling from city to city hearing his teaching. Along with listening to his message, the disciples witnessed several miracles first hand. I realized that the evangelist does not have Jesus prod the disciples about his identity until almost midway through the gospel. Why is that? Should not Jesus’ identity be discussed sooner? Reflecting on this chapter in Matthew, I read the chapters leading up and I concluded that perhaps Jesus wanted to give his followers sufficient time for receiving evidence [i.e. witnessing his works, listening to his teaching] before he confronted them with such a loaded question.
2. Truth beyond Perspectives: An anonymous quote I discovered the other day states, “Never believe everything you hear. Because there are always three sides of a story. Yours, theirs and the truth.”Perspective is the ability to look at an event through the lens of another and understand that individual’s point of view. This does not necessarily mean that you have to agree with that perspective, but many situations involve several sides. Belief of Jesus is no different. Discussion about the most famous person in history continues today. People claim to know who he is, others suspend judgment, and still others outright reject the existence of Jesus.
Catholics believe that Jesus institutes the papacy in Matthew 16:17-19. Jesus gifts the early Church with a steadfast promise of clarity—in the office of the pope. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood* has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father,” Jesus states in Matthew 16:17. Peter and his successors are not honored by the Catholic Church because they were awesome people—remember Peter actually denied knowing Jesus three times before the Crucifixion! God made an interesting selection for the first leader of the Church after Jesus’ Ascension.
Catholics respect the authority of the pope because the Holy Spirit guided Peter [and his successors] and endowed him [and his successors] the gift of discernment and clarity on matters of faith and morals. The Holy Spirit helps the pope present such issues with clarity in confusing times. True, certain matters and events have varying perspectives. But the office of the papacy is guided by the Holy Spirit to allow the leader of the Church to being incapable of officially teaching erroneous things regarding faith and morality.
Light is composed of all visible colors in the electromagnetic spectrum. A prism is a tool to demonstrate this truth through refracting light into various wavelengths. In an analogous manner, the pope acts as a sort of theological prism upon which the unity of office is reflected in the diversity of individuals who hold that office. Over time, truth passed on to Peter from Christ is clarified and more clearly defined by future popes. Seen apart, each pope may seem to be teaching differently. However, when viewed through the prism of history and the office of the papacy, Catholic teaching is concentrated into a singular light of truth.
3. Who is Jesus to Me?: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me,” Jesus urges his Apostles in Matthew 25:45. How often do I forget that humanity on the periphery— the impoverished, the infirmed, individuals filled with despair, etc—are people I am called to love and serve. As an American, I have grown accustomed to decent living conditions. I have a house, family, money to pay the bills, and adequate food. Of course, as a Catholic, I see Jesus most fully present in the sacrament of the Eucharist, and I do make time throughout the month to pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Where I struggle and have an opportunity to improve in my spiritual life is to be more conscience to pray for people on the fringe of society. I need to see Jesus the beggar dwelling inside each of them.
Who are you? This question should be asked daily in our communication with God. He will reveal Himself but we need to be open to an unexpected answer. Faith and tradition tells us that Jesus is the Christ—the anointed Son of God and Savior of the World. Jesus is also the beggar, the impoverished one, the Suffering Servant—to borrower the evangelist Mark’s favorite title of Jesus. Let us embrace the fullness of Jesus both in his glory and his humility. In doing so, we grow in holiness and learn more about our true identity as well!
I am a huge fan of fantasy literature and among my favorite authors is J.R.R. Tolkien, better known as the creator of Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien, when asked about how he dreamed up the world of LOTR stated that it was not so much like creating, but rather discovering a world already in existence. This has always stuck in my mind as a profound idea.
It was not until I started creating my own board game [I hope to publish it for my son’s 10th birthday as a present!] that I realized the truth in Tolkien’s words. My journey in making my board game was more of a discovery of a game already existent—I just happened to be the one to uncover it.
There is a connection of Tolkien’s and my own personal experience to the truths of the Catholic Church. Truth is not something to be manufactured or fabricated. The objective truth of the Gospel—preached and housed in the Catholic Church— have always existed!
Jesus gave the honor and responsibility to his Apostles and Original members of the Catholic Church to safeguard, teach, and articulate the Truth for future generations until His Second Coming. Let us examine some examples as evidence for this claim.
Jesus Entrusted Peter with Authority
Listen to Jesus’ words to the soon-to-be first pope in Matthew 16:18-19, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
Knowing fully well that humanity thrives on clarity of thought and have stability in a leadership position, Jesus planted the seeds to the papal office here. In fact, the Greek name for Peter [πέτρος] is translated as “stone” or “rock”. God gifted Christianity [and the entire world] with the office of the papacy to be the authority in the matter of faith and morals. The Holy Spirit works in a special way through the pope to guide him whenever a moral truth comes into debate or question.
Evidence from the Didache
According to many scholars, this document was written around 65-110 A.D and is known as the teaching of the Twelve Apostles. When I read this document I was surprised to hear many Catholic truths proclaimed from such an early 1st century document. The Didache specifically mentioned the Eucharist in Chapter 9 and the sacrament of Holy Orders in Chapter 15. Mere decades after the Resurrection of Christ, the Catholic Church as we know it today was safeguarding the truths handed to it by Jesus.
Pope Pius IX on Papal Infallibility
The solemn declaration of papal infallibility occurred on July 18th, 1870. Pope Pius IX’s statement on papal infallibility related only to matters of faith and morality and only in his office as pope could the leader of the Church speak with such authority. As I stated before, the seeds to this doctrine were planted back in Matthew 16:18-19 when Jesus gave authority to Peter through the power of the Holy Spirit.
While the doctrine of papal infallibility may be a hot-buttoned issue, especially among non-Catholics, it does not have to be. Seeing the role of the Catholic Church as the guardian and teacher of truth and not the creator of truth was a notion that transformed my approach to this subject.
Let us apply Tolkien’s discovery of Middle Earth, as a place already present, to Catholic Church teaching as a truth existent for eternity. Our role is to discover anew how the truth of the Gospel may shape our daily lives!