Grace to you!
In today’s reflection, I draw a lesson from Saint Peter as the first Pope (Greek pappas, meaning father) of the Universal Church, and some of its implications for the Office of the Pope.
People sometimes say—explicitly or implicitly—that the Holy Father (pope) as a person has to be perfect. Otherwise he relinquishes his authority as the leader of the Church. Those familiar with Church history would recognize this is an old debate.
What kind of Peter do we want? A Peter that is perfect? One that has all the impeccable perfection of the angels? Is it a Peter that never falters and wavers? Is it a Peter that isn’t human and has thoroughly followed the ways of the Lord?
If this is the kind of Peter we want, then it isn’t the biblical Peter. Such isn’t the kind appointed by the Lord himself as the first pope.
The biblical Peter was born like us, in sin. The Lord chose him from his humble profession (a fisherman) to lead his Holy Body, the Church (Mt 4:18-20). The biblical Peter had humbling mistakes, venial and grave sins too. You may read the following biblical documentations as proofs: Mt 16:21-24; Jn 18:10-11; Mt 26:69-75 see also Lk 22:54-62; Jn 21:1-22; Gal 2:9-14.
The biblical Peter wasn’t a bundle of academic excellence either. Some would argue he was not so much a thorough thinker. He was unstable in many ways and afraid in many ways.
We noticed he was a rustic fisherman. Not always properly dressed (Jn 21:7).
We read about his unguarded and audacious zeal (Mt 26:35; Jn 18:10-11; Mt 14:28) and yet see his unmistakable fears, doubt and little faith (Mt 14:30-31; Jn 18:15-18, 25). He is enthusiastic and at the same time rarely follows through with his commitments.
He is the one who went back to fishing and may have inspired the other six disciples to join him in their old profession (Jn 21:3), whereas the Lord had asked them to wait in Galilea. They were to become fishers of men not fishermen. He was presented as one who is impatient.
Yet it is the same Peter who takes a lead. He wants to serve. He tells the disciples to venture out. He hauls the net when the Lord asked them to do so. He pioneered many of the actions that would lead to the growth of the early church.
Yes, he wasn’t perfect. Yet, his zeal and love for the Lord was evident all the way. He wasn’t perfect; he was rather aware of his imperfections. He was constantly repentant when he faltered. In him, the precious grace of ongoing conversion was real and lived. He was quick to recognize his sins “Depart from me Lord, I’m a sinful man” (Lk 5:8). He was the true candidate of heavenly renewal. That was the Peter the Lord called and told three times to feed, tend his sheep, the Church (Jn 21:17-19).
If anyone is in doubt as to the Lord’s ways in the leadership of the Church, let them read the biblical standards. If anyone is in doubt as to the necessity of central authority in the Church, let them read Jn 21:17-19.
The Pope isn’t a man of his own. He is a man chosen and called to lead the Body of Christ. The pope isn’t expected to be perfect. The Lord himself never used that as a criterion. Neither should we as believers. No one is perfect except the Lord. The Holy Father is holy because the Body of Christ, of which he is the physical head, is holy.
This doesn’t mean the pope isn’t called to holiness of life. He is. In fact, to whom much is given, much is expected, the Lord tells us (Lk 12:48). To whom much is given, to that person the devil’s attacks are prime also. The pope needs our ceaseless prayers too.
Here is the most incredible aspect of this grace of the office of the papacy: It is sustained by the Lord himself. “The Gates of the netherworld cannot overcome it” (Mt 16:18).
You either believe the Lord is God and true and hang on to his Word and the ways and means he has chosen to lead his Church; or, you may choose to explain it away and subvert it with empty philosophy. It is a blessing to do so.
For me, I follow the ways of the Lord. I listen and I obey.
Praying for the grace of the virtue of piety and obedience.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Third Sunday Easter Week 3: Acts 5:27-32,40-41; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19]
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.