by Rev. Nicholas L. Gregoris

It's not so much the Pope's role to redefine his own position in the Church, as it is to live it out with the fullness of genuine, Christian humility and joy in the daily recognition that he is "the Servant of the servants of God" ("Servus servorum Dei") – that most beautiful title of any pope, first used by Pope St. Gregory the Great.

Pope Blessed Pius IX was considered rather a liberal at the beginning of his pontificate to being an arch-conservative toward the end of his reign. He went from being quite popular at the outset of his Petrine ministry to being so unpopular by the end that the Romans were clamoring to throw his corpse into the Tiber. Luckily, they did not succeed, and we can still visit his tomb in the Vatican grottos!

Pope Blessed John XXIII was accused of "modernism" and removed from his assignment as a seminary professor, and then ended up being known simply as "il Papa Buono" ("the Good Pope") due to his grand-fatherly ways and his advocacy of "peace on earth" (see his encyclical "Pacem in Terris"). It's hardly fair to call John XXIII a liberal when he still wore the tiara, rode on the sedia gestatoria, and insisted that Latin be retained in the Sacred Liturgy and be used as the official theological language in all seminaries and pontifical schools. Indeed, the only change to the Sacred Liturgy made by him was adding the name of St. Joseph to the "Roman Canon" (now also termed the First Eucharistic Prayer).

By the way, Pope Francis has made only one slight change to the Roman Missal of Pope Paul VI; he added St. Joseph's name to the other Eucharistic Prayers as well; this was already planned by Pope Benedict XVI and is especially fitting since St. Joseph is the Patron Saint of the Universal Church.

When St. John Paul II issued his first major document on the social teaching of the Church, "Solicitudo Rei Socialis" in 1987, he was criticized by several bishops and theologians who thought his position on capitalism was too harsh and somewhat ill-informed. Subsequently, Pope John Paul II wrote the encyclical "Centesimus Annus" (1991), to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of Pope Leo XII's encyclical "Rerum Novarum." Having heeded the advice of his counselors, Pope John Paul II, who had both a doctorate in theology and one in philosophy, evinced a much more balanced view of capitalism when he penned the second encyclical.

Often people in authority – including popes – need to be open to constructive criticism and, like the rest of us, evolve in terms of their mentality, character, opinions and views on important matters. The key to a successful pope is his willingness to listen to God's Word in obedience to the Magisterium – to "feel with the Church" ("sentire cum ecclesia"); to accept in all love and humility the precise role with which he has been entrusted by Holy Mother Church through the person of the Sacred College of Cardinals who elected him as Successor of St. Peter.

It's not so much the Pope's role to redefine his own position in the Church, as it is to live it out with the fullness of genuine, Christian humility and joy in the daily recognition that he is "the Servant of the servants of God" ("Servus servorum Dei") – that most beautiful title of any pope, first used by Pope St. Gregory the Great.

This joy and humility were virtues that Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI had in abundance. They radiated joy and humility because they knew exactly who they were as human persons, first and foremost, and then as they happened to have received the tremendous grace and enormous responsibility of being elected popes. We can only hope that Pope Francis will continue following the example of his venerable predecessors in the Chair of Peter, who learned humbly from their mistakes.

In this regard, a poignant historical example comes to mind.
 
"My dear sweet Christ on earth!”

The Catholic Church boasts many saints and even martyrs who defended the papacy when it was being attacked both within the Church and by her fiercest enemies without. One of the saints who stands out in this regard is the great Dominican, Catherine of Siena, who is buried under the high altar of Rome's only Gothic church, the splendid Santa Maria sopra Minerva near the Pantheon.

Next year marks the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Order of Preachers by St. Dominic of Guzman, with their sublime Latin motto: "Veritas" ("Truth"). And Catherine took that motto to heart.

When the popes were in exile in Avignon, France, during the Great Western Schism of the 14th century, St. Catherine of Siena took it upon herself to address personal letters to the Holy Father in order to give him what the Italians might call "una spinta" ("a little push"), so that he might reconsider his stagnant, exiled state and thus return to Rome where he belonged. In one of those letters, Catherine addressed Pope Gregory XI as "my dear sweet Christ on earth" ("o mio dolce Cristo in terra"), thereby underscoring the Church's teaching that the Pope is not just any other bishop but indeed "the Vicar of Christ on earth." Eventually, the Pope listened to St. Catherine and returned home from the Avignon captivity to the See of St. Peter, the Diocese of Rome.

Well, perhaps it's time for other contemporary saints to write a respectful letter to Pope Francis, begging him to reconsider the Petrine office because there seems to be a lot of confusion between the official and immemorial teaching of the Church on this matter and what he said in his discourse to the Synod Fathers this past Saturday, October 17, 2015.

Long live the Pope!

 

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