Saturday, November 18, 2017

Pope on a rope

Both my wife and I grew up in Catholic families, so it should not be a surprise that both of our families had at least a few “pope on the rope” soaps at various times in our childhood. It is difficult to determine when the “pope on a rope” was first sold, but it is easy to determine when they were no longer available. In 1985, the Vatican decided that having a chunk of soap fashioned to look like a pope was not a proper use of a papal figure, and sales stopped soon after that.

Both of our families also had magnetic St. Christopher statues sitting on the dashboard of the family sedan. With the advent of padded dashes, the magnetic statues became outdated, but you can still buy St. Christopher medals today. Since St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, having a medal of him in your car on a long trip is probable a good idea.

Contrary to common opinion, the history of papal succession is NOT an unbroken line of men from St. Peter to the present day. The first break in the tradition is Pope Joan, who apparently was the pope for a brief period of time in the 11th century. Since Pope Joan is a bit of a legend, and since she is not listed on the register of popes, it is difficult to tell if she was actually the pope, but her legend lives on.

The first disruption in the “chain of command” was the Western Schism, which lasted from 1378 until 1417, when men of the Avignon papacy and the Rome papacy both claimed to be pope. Things got even more complicated in 1409 when the Council of Pisa established a THIRD pope. Starting in 1414, the Council of Constance cleared things up. Today, there is only one pope, who lives in Rome. The Eastern Orthodox Church of today does not have a pope, but Bartholomew 1 holds the title of “primus inter pares” which means “first among equals”.

Over the years, I have read a few books about the various popes. “Hitler’s pope”, published in 1999, describes how Pope Pius XII dealt with the rise of Hitler, who was actually raised as a Catholic.

More recently, I am in the process of reading “The Francis Miracle”, which provides a great deal of information about the man who was born as Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Italy.

Even if you are not a Catholic, it is a compelling story about his unlikely ascendancy to his current position. In my opinion, he is the best pope of my lifetime, but that is an opinion that would not be shared by the more conservative Catholics of today. The most prominent of that group would include German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller and American Cardinal Raymond Burke. Since Mueller is the pope’s own doctrinal chief, the reign of Pope Francis will become even more interesting to watch.

In his closing comments, the author of the book (John L. Allen) had this to say about Pope Francis:

“Catholicism has never fully been the church of Pope John XXIII, John Paul II, or, for that matter, Gregory the Great or St. Peter himself. It has too much of its own mind -  or, rather, 1.2 billion individual minds, all encouraged by Catholic tradition to bring their own reason to bear on what the faith means to them. The nature of the Church is that no one individual, not even a pope, can dictate its rhythms and its culture. That said, a handful of popes over the centuries clearly changed the Church forever, definitely closing some doors and kicking others open against all odds.

Francis’s mission is to move the Church to the political center, the margins of the world and the heart of the gospel. Will he pull it off in a way that lasts? We can’t be certain, of course, but anyone watching him at work knows the smart bet probably isn’t against him”   

Can I get an “amen”, brothers and sisters?

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