Saturday, April 09, 2005

The Spiritual Formation of a Pope

A lot of folks these days are wondering and looking into how a pope is elected.

I wonder how a pope is made. Reading about John Paul's young life and training and early career as a priest is interesting, and solidifies my impression about his integrity within the culture of the church in which he was reared.

But how does a pope deal with the question of papal infallibility, knowing what goes on in his own heart; what has gone on in the hearts and lives and edicts of his predecessors? Because - and I'm using New Advent's definition linked above - it is the infallibility of doctrinal interpretation that is at the heart of the question.

How does a pope maintain his humility in the face of being regarded as such? How does he shoulder the burden of this infallibility when the papal robes are placed upon him? The implication is that while he may do wrong, he cannot say wrong on the matter of doctrine.

How intensely does he study - both the Bible and his own church's history, for he must conform to both - and prayerfully approach the answer to all of the new questions that arise from tumultuous change in sociology, biology, technology, politics ... even weather? Knowing that whatever he says will be regarded by the better part of a billion people as the very utterance of God?

Does he pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in such matters? Do millions of his flock pray with him for it?

Does God grant their petition?

I'm not intentionally trying to cloud the distinction between papal infallibility, revelation and inspiration that Catholics perceive. It's tough, though, because they are integrally related. And they must have a profound impact on the one chosen as pope.

We non-Catholics tend to be skeptical of such a core belief as doctrinal infallibility.

But I also wonder - and it's easy for me to wonder, since I don't have a pulpit - do the ministers and preachers among us feel that same burden when they step up to the lectern or visit a hospital bed or sit in on an elder's meeting? Do they pray constantly that each word they proclaim is the very word of God? Do we, their various flocks, pray with them for the guidance of His Spirit?

As members of a universal priesthood, do we pray for that kind of infallibility for ourselves?

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." - Matthew 5:48

4 comments:

Paul Ryan Clark said...
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Paul Ryan Clark said...
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Greg Taylor said...

One thought that "governs" my day to day is what Jesus quotes in the wilderness (and he's quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3) . . . that we live not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. When we pray for discernment yet ignore the Bible, I don't think we'll be speaking the words from the mouth of God. If we pray for that discernment, coupled with intense desire to hear daily from the mouth of God from Scripture and for his shaping by the Spirit of how to read that into our lives, then I think we can speak that affirmatively into people's lives, not infallibly but the more closely we speak the words of Christ, the more infallible and radically changing of lives it can become. The other day I was talking to a Muslim from Iran across the table of a spaghetti supper at our children's school. He wanted to know what I thought of other religions. I said Jesus is the most tolerant and intolerant person who ever lived. He loves those who others cast out. Yet he called himself, "the way, the truth, and the life," saying "no one comes to the Father except through him." I talked more about the relentless pursuit of the Father in which Jesus plays a central role. My Muslim friend said, "the world needs to hear this message."

Keith Brenton said...

My guess is that your Muslim friend doesn't know that the Koran says "Allah has no need of a son," and Mohammed is referring specifically to Jesus!

He proves your point - we need to read the Word to hear what God is saying in answer to our prayers for discernment.