August 20-21, 2016

Friends, 

I wonder how many of us believe that the choice of Pope is made by the Holy Spirit and that the Cardinals are mere puppets in the process. Or do we believe the process of selecting a new Pope is a very human choice determined more by theology (understanding of God), ecclesiology (understanding of Church) and political influences? 

There have been 265 popes during our 2000 year history. Some have served for mere days and others for many years (32 years is the longest reign). Some of our papal history is not the most positive and there have been many different ways of selecting the pope through the centuries. It's only in recent years that the Cardinals gathered in a consistory at the Vatican to select (elect) the Pope in secrecy. We had Popes over the centuries appointed by emperors, some inherited the position, some were as young as teenagers, at one time there were 3 different men claiming the title. During our lifetime the Church has stabilized and the institution has put into place a system which is a reaction to a sordid history, the choice is now in the hands of those who hold the position of "Cardinal" in our Church. This process is an attempt to restore respect and trust in the Church and the Church's leadership, beginning with the Papacy. I believe it is a vast improvement over a procedure that was out of control at times. I have read many books on the history of the Papacy and the lives of the Popes. 

It is interesting to contrast 2 well-known Popes of our time: Pope John Paul II (now Saint John Paul) who was in office for 27 years, and Pope Francis who has only been the Bishop of Rome for 3 years. Both of these men have made a huge impact on the Church and yet in very different ways. I would say that Pope John Paul II was a theological conservative and a social progressive. He was very well respected by the traditionalists in the Catholic Church. For them, the Holy Spirit was definitely involved in his selection in 1978. 

I would say that Pope Francis is a theological moderate and a social progressive. He gives a lot of hope to Catholics who weren't too enamored with the leadership of Pope John Paul II. The more progressive members of the Church see the Holy Spirit's influence in the selection of Pope Francis in 2013. 

The Church is not a stagnant institution. It is the People of God on a pilgrimage. As our understanding of God expands, so does the role of the Church in the world. 

I am grateful for the leadership of Pope John Paul II; he led the church during most of my priesthood. I am grateful for the leadership of Pope Francis who courageously leads our Church today. Do I identify with one leadership style over another? Absolutely. Everyone who is invested in the Church emotionally, spiritually, physically and financially notices the difference in these two men and is drawn to either one more strongly than the other. 

If you read history, we find out that the same choice was made by many people between Peter and Paul in the 1st century. 

The more things change the more they stay the same. 

Enjoy Life! 
Fr Coyne

 

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