The hard hat the pope uses to be a bridge builder, a pontiff!
I suspect there is great anxiety about who the next pope will be. The media has its choice; progressive Catholics have their choice as do conservative Catholics. We could also call some of us traditionalists and others of us iconoclasts who have their choice. But all these labels are a bit unfair and tend to divide rather than unite although fidelity to Jesus does divide families as we read in the Gospels where Jesus says he has come to divide. But that's another homily!
In truth though, the only choice for pope that counts is God’s choice and God has already chosen the new pope although the messiness of His "incarnational" way of doing it confuses us!
The primary ministry of the Bishop of Rome as denoted in one of his titles, Pontifex or Pontiff is to be a “bridge builder.” He is to unite the people of God under his ministry as the universal pastor and as our “papa” or “pope” in English. But he does not do so only by the force of his personality, because some popes are outgoing and others more introverted; he does so by virtue of his teaching office, to hand on the Catholic Deposit of Faith in all its fullness and to call Catholics throughout the world to be obedient to the Faith, Morals (natural law) and Canon Laws of the Church.
It is in the teachings of the Church revealed by God in the areas of faith and morals that Catholics are obligated to be obedient, to give the full assent of the will; when we do so we build up the unity of the Church rather than bring division. Our unity as Catholics hinges on our foundational belief that Jesus Christ was crucified, died and was buried and on the third day, rose from the dead. He was seen by the apostles and many, many others after his death and resurrection. He continued to eat and drink,teach and heal in those 40 days and then He ascended into heaven where he sits at the right hand of God interceding for us and preparing an eternal dwelling for us. But He has not left us alone, He sends us His Holy Spirit to guide the Church and protect her in the tempests that toss her about, some of our own making and others that are inflicted upon us. He has not and will not abandon us, either as a Church or as individuals.
However and only in the last 50 years or so an evil spirit of “dissent” has entered or perhaps has reentered into the Church and many Catholics have become like Southern Baptists who believe that each believer has a certain infallibility in terms of interpreting the Scriptures. Some Catholics believe they can be a part of the loyal opposition against the pope and bishops, that they can dissent from defined teachings, doctrinal and moral. They are of course delusional for evil always deludes us.
Fortunately the Catholic Church only accords infallibility to one person and that is the pope and only in the strictest sense of faith and morals. He can only declare something infallible as long as there is a precedent for it in Tradition and it is believed from the earliest centuries by the Church. In other words, he can’t make it up as he goes and he can’t change something that is already considered infallible. Infallibility is also accorded to the Bishops in union with the pope when they gather in an ecumenical council and define a particular teaching to be infallible.
The hottest and most divisive issues for Catholics today seem to revolve around sexuality issues and gender roles. Those who are influenced by secular trends (which are not always bad, unless these are used to manipulate the Church into being unfaithful to deposit of faith and morals (natural law) desire the Church to be as libertine as our culture is on matters of sexuality. This means specifically giving permission to Catholics to use artificial birth control (which goes against natural law) to have abortions, to have sex outside of marriage and any type of sex one is inclined to do and to extend the Sacrament of Marriage to same sex partners.
In other words they want us to do away with the 6th Commandment and all that it implies and they want us to do away with natural law and all it implies and they want us to do away with 2000 years of Tradition and all that it implies.
Oh, on top of that (which goes in line with same sex marriage) they want women to be ordained to Holy Orders. Of course the sacramental image of the Catholic priest when he is celebrating the Mass is that he is a “sacramental” sign of Jesus Christ who is the Bridegroom of the Church and the gathered community of souls (anima in Latin which is a feminine word) is the sacramental sign of the Bride of Christ. If it doesn’t matter what gender spouses are, if the Church then allowed for the ordination of women, the Church would then allow that a woman can be a sacramental sign of a “bridegroom” who traditionally is a man. The Church cannot do such as it goes against common sense because common sense as is natural law is written in the heart of all.
Of course the Church can’t go against natural law and she never will. So don’t expect the new pope to do so, because he has absolutely no authority to do so. No Catholic has that authority. The pope’s infallibility is severely limited by Catholic teaching. He can’t contradict natural law. He cannot contradict Sacred Scripture and he cannot contradict Sacred Tradition. He is not the “Wizard of Oz” or “Oz, the Great and Powerful!” He is the pope, the bridge builder to Christ and he does so by fidelity to Sacred Scripture, Tradition and natural law.
We Catholics are united by the Petrine Ministry, the pope who is the Vicar of Christ and only in the areas of faith, morals (natural law) and canon law we Catholics owe obedience. When we are obedient in these areas, we are united in the mission that Christ as given the Church, to know, love and serve Him in this life and to be happy with Him forever in heaven. We also propagate the truths of God to the world and call the world to conversion by our dialogue with the world. There is a danger in dialogue in that if we are wishy-washy in our own beliefs, we may be tempted to be converted by the world to its godless falsehoods.
Stick with the pope in the areas of faith and morals and you can’t go wrong and you won’t go to hell.
If you read this blog, you know that I am somewhat traditional and somewhat high church when it comes to the Liturgy. But I am also quite liberal in allowing for a variety of ways to celebrate the Mass. I firmly believe that what I have written above is essential for Catholics and that the Liturgy of the Church should sustain and support obedience to God and that the horizontal is important only in so far as together we are obedient to God and our worship of God in truth and love is unified.
The next pope will celebrate Mass as the Church allows. He may not do so quite as Pope Benedict modeled and he may model a more progressive way, but the new Holy Father will not be unfaithful to Vatican II or the history of the Church in any areas although he might be progressive in some areas, especially "pastoral theology" which has implications for the liturgy.
I'm sticking with the pope, no matter who he is, because I don't want to separate myself from the full communion of the Church. In this regard ecclesiology counts!