by Fr. Tommy Lane
On October 16th 1978, two days after the Papal Conclave had commenced, white smoke issued from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel announcing that a Pope had been chosen. A half hour later a Cardinal announced that Cardinal Karol Woytyla had been chosen as Pope and was taking the name John Paul II. The crowd in St. Peter’s Square was bewildered; a Pole elected as Pope, and then Pope John Paul II stepped onto the balcony shortly afterwards speaking excellent Italian. If you were to follow the speculation before and during a conclave about who would become Pope you should be prepared to be surprised because of the last fifteen Popes only three were favorites before their elevation (Leo XIII, Pius XII and Paul VI). Many trees were consumed in all the newsprint speculation about the two Papal elections in 1978 but the two Popes elected, John Paul I and John Paul II, scarcely received a mention. No wonder that the Romans have a saying, “The one who goes into a conclave as Pope comes out again as Cardinal.” (Facts about conclave speculation taken from The Election of the Pope by Cantwell)
Just as the media usually get it wrong concerning a future Pope, in Jesus’ day many people also got it wrong about Jesus. “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matt 16:13-14) It was Peter who got it right, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:16) Then Jesus, to use our terminology, proclaimed Peter the first Pope. Just as those who are elected Popes are almost always a surprise, Jesus’ choice of Peter was also a surprise. When Peter tried to walk on the sea his faith was not strong enough (Matt 14:28-31) and when put under pressure during Jesus’ trial he denied Jesus three times. Perhaps the media would have suggested the apostle John instead. During the Last Supper in Luke’s account (22:32) Jesus said that after Peter had recovered his faith he was to strengthen his brother apostles. We could describe this as the role of the Pope, to strengthen the faith of the Church. And in John 21:15-17 three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him and three times Peter replied that he did and each time Jesus asked him to look after his sheep.
Jesus knew the Church needed a Pope to strengthen its faith and to feed it spiritually. We have lost our sense of right and wrong because we are drifting away from God. When we drift away from God we drift away from the only source of truth and so we lose our sense of right and wrong. Then we think we can do what we like, that anything goes. When Jesus was on trial before Pilate he said he had come to bear witness to the truth and all who are on the side of truth listen to him (John 18:37). Pilate replied, “Truth? What is that?” (John 18:38). Pilate’s reply could well describe these times. To guide the Church in the way of Truth God gives the Church a Pope. We also believe that the Pope has the charism of truth which we sometimes call infallibility to prevent him from error when teaching on faith and morals. We need both the Bible and the teaching of the Church to guide us on our journey through life because not everything we believe is explicit in the Bible. That is why the teaching of the Church is also so important.
Pilate said, “Truth? What is that?” There is Truth that is unchangeable. There is right and wrong, there are actions that are evil. Our Holy Father the Pope teaches the truth clearly on all matters and helps prevent us straying from the truth. In Jesus’ time some people strayed from the truth, “Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matt 16:14) But Peter received a revelation from our Father in heaven and knew that Jesus was the Messiah, the Christ. Our faith is not a matter of opinions, it is not a matter of who people say the Son of Man is but faith is believing what has been revealed to us by God. Without the revelation of God or if we do not believe the revelation of God we would wander around the place saying, “Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matt 16:14) But with faith we say of Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:16)
We thank God for giving us a Pope who guides us in truth and we us ask God to grant us humility to accept and receive what God has revealed so that instead of saying, “Some say he is John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” we can instead say, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:16)
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
More homilies for the Twenty-First Sunday Year A
Related Homilies: Peter grew to consider suffering for Jesus an honor
stories about the Pope