Belated Thoughts on the Pope's Visit

Pope Benedict left the United States on April 20, concluding a 6-day tour in our nation, and I for one am impressed. I should say that since I’m a Protestant the pope doesn’t hold a unique place in my faith, nor do I have any religious allegiance to him. Yet having said that, I love this guy!

I remember some hugh and cry when Benedict was elected to the papacy in 2005 because some felt he’s too conservative. Apparently many thought that the Catholic Church would be better served by a pope who’s more willing to “get with the times,” and start thinking more like a 20th century postmodernist and less like a heir of the 1st century Apostles.

Trouble is, the pope is precisely the latter. In fact (regardless of one’s convictions on apostolic succession), a Christian by definition is one who has embraced Christianity: the worldview laid down by Jesus and the Apostles. All Christians are thus heirs of the Apostles, and the pope is the single most visible and influential Christian in the world. I’m delighted to see that this pope evidently views his role in these terms. Consider some of his objectives while Stateside:

  • Re-energizing Catholicism the United States – in other words, if you’re going to call yourself a Catholic, it’s going to mean something. One example is his reiteration of the church’s stance against abortion to Catholic US politicians. Benedict seems more intent on contending for Catholic theology than winning popularity contests.

  • Declaring that moral relativism is dangerous, and that there is absolute right and wrong. He spent some time combating secular assumptions in Catholic universities, urging the schools to stay true to their mission.

  • Confronting the necessary but uncomfortable. I appreciated his remarks on the well-publicized priest sex scandals of recent years. Again, the fact that he addressed this subject when he didn’t “have to,” meaning it wasn’t dominating the 24-hour news cycle at the time, show an inclination to do what’s right, vs. what’s expedient.

Now I’m no expert on Pope Benedict, or even Catholicism in general. Nor do I make light of differences between Christian faith traditions. However, a heavily postmodern, secular age such as ours strikes me as precisely the time when dedicated Christians of all stripes (what C.S. Lewis would call “mere Christians”) should unite around the essentials of our faith, and winsomely live that faith among our fellow men. I think a Catholic church full of energized people who know what they believe and why they believe it, and who are committed to proclaiming the gospel in word and deed, is a good thing.

And I think a pope who applies his heart and mind to the task of advancing biblical truth in a relativistic world is to be commended. To the extent that Benedict pursues an agenda like the one above, you can add this one, lowly, non-Catholic’s voice to his chorus of supporters.


Ken said...

For a second there, I thought I was on the wrong blog...

First and foremost, I not only love, but respect Pope Benedict XVI. It's no secret that I am a practicing Catholic. His Holiness' love for the US is unquestioned. We are a people of faith. He applauds the separation of church and state in this country - and is urging it in others. He sees a flock that started very small and now makes up the majority of Americans. He realized that for the soul of the church, he had to say something about the abuse scandal. Hopefully, it will turn into action. I love that he says what is on his mind and doesn't really shy away from it when he creates a PR faux pax.

I'll admit I was a little leery that he couldn't make the transition from Church Enforcer to Pope. But he seems to be doing very well.

What I do not appreciate is American politicians trying to use the Pope for political gain or how some issues can get completely blown out of proportion (i.e. Mayor Guiliant accepting Communion, in spite of his questionable marriage history). However, Benedict seems to rise above that, and I think that's cool.

Matt Guerino said...

Ken: It's nice to know I can still surprise people sometimes!

I have always held the deepest respect for people of faith who bring keen minds to bear on issues of faith, life, and meaning. Whether it's Jonathon Edwards, CS Lewis, John Calvin or Augustine, I love men of the mind who are deep men of faith. Benedict seems to be such a man too.

Mark & Esthermay Bentley-Goossen said...

Hello! I’ve wandered over from “Amy’s Classy Blog” which I’ve enjoyed very much.

I agree with you that a pope who applies his heart and mind to the task of advancing biblical truth in today’s world is to be commended . . . but, there is nothing within Pope Benedict’s convictions that will ever breach that gigantic chasm between evangelicals and Roman Catholics on the issue of biblical authority and the Gospel of salvation/grace.... Some evangelicals believe that his firm stand on biblical truth will cause even greater frustration among evangelicals for the very reason you so brilliantly express admiration for the man: we admire him for the fact that he has values and convictions rather than the doctrine behind them. The great divide between evangelical Christians and the Roman Catholic Church remains. AND you rightly point this out. Interesting thoughts. Thanks.

Matt Guerino said...

Esthermay, thanks for your comment! I do agree that we're not on the verge of seeing Protestants and Catholics reunite into one church anytime soon :-) Differences remain. Yet in an Oprah-ized age where many people like to take the term "Christian" and redefine it to mean whatever they want, I am thrilled with thinkers who submit their lives to Jesus rather than trying to submit Jesus to the ever-changing sensibilities of the times.

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