“What is the Point in the Pope?”

One question I received in response to my last post, which happens to be a common inquiry people have about the Church, is “what is up with the pope? Why is he necessary?”. I understand this feeling, because I used to question this as well. I thought that Catholics worshiped the pope and looked to him as God, believing that He is an infallible human. There are a lot of things people think Catholics believe when it comes to the pope and most of them do not coincide with what the Church actually teaches. So let me give you the other side of the story.

I need to start off by explaining, as I have kind of touched on in previous posts, that the universal  Catholic Church is essentially one Church.  It operates as one, it believes as one, and it worships as one. The only reason the Church is separated into separate buildings across the world is simply because it is physically and logically impossible to get every Catholic in the world in the same place, at the same time. Therefore, there are only different church buildings to serve different areas. A small town or city may have just one church building, whereas a larger populated city may have one per a certain amount of square miles. This concept differs from other Christian churches, in that with others you may have two churches of the same denomination within two miles of each other, who remain separate not because of geographical  boundaries or issues with space, but because there are certain things they are not in accord with each other about, which causes them to remain separate.

Since we are one Church, we have, like any other church, leaders who are ordained by God to shepherd the flock. Since there are geographical distances between this one church, a system was created to assure that we remain united as one family, one body of believers, all in one accord. Each individual church building (called a “parish”) is lead by one or two priests (depending on the size of the parish). A group of parishes that are all in close proximity to each other are part of a “diocese”. The parish I serve at, St. Charles in Nederland, is part of the diocese of Beaumont—or, Beaumont and surrounding areas. Another nearby example is the diocese of Galveston-Houston. Each diocese is lead by a bishop. It’s the bishop’s God ordained responsibility to shepherd those in his diocese, and to assist and advise the priests in the diocese in shepherding their individual parishes.

And the pope? Well, he’s just another bishop. He is the bishop of the diocese of Rome. And since Rome was chosen as the capitol location (because if it is one Church, then logically somewhere has to be designated as the central location), then the bishop of the diocese of Rome was given the role as the spokesman for the other bishops and for the Church.

Something I think a lot of people who hold misconceptions about the pope miss is that every Christian church has a teaching office of some sort and every Christian church has a designated leader and spokesman, in order to effectively lead the flock closer to God.

But isn’t it dangerous to give that much power to one man?

The pope is not without accountability. All of the bishops work together, through constant prayer and meditation, to decide how they can best shepherd their people, how they can lead their people the closest to God, just like the leaders of any other Christian church strive to do. When a decision has been reached, the pope serves as the spokesman for the Church, but he has made no decisions by himself. These men have no power of their own, nor are they infallible. They are men, with faults and shortcomings just as you and I. The Teachings of the Church, however, spoken by Jesus through the bishops, are believed to be infallible.

(((Read: the Teachings of the Church that are believed to be infallible are denoted with a capital “T” in the word Teaching. For example, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, one God in three parts, which is not directly referenced and named in scripture, is considered an infallible Teaching of the Church. Big T Traditions are believed to be the Word of God, spoken through the Church which sits in the seat of Christ. There are other traditions, such as the celibacy of priests,  that are susceptible to change and are not claimed to be an infallible Teaching of God)))).

Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, He established a physical Church here on Earth for his believers to call home. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you bind on Earth will be bound in Heaven. Whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19

Jesus was physically leaving. He would always be with us through the Holy Spirit and always a prayer away. But physically, He was going back home to Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. But he did not leave us with nothing. He established a physical Church to stand in for Him during His physical absence. He graciously entrusted Peter and his apostles to lead His people closer to Him and to guide them in worship.

Peter, the first bishop, answered the call of Jesus.  Together with the other disciples, they established the Church and, as we read about in the book of Acts, different apostles brought the Church to other nations. An apostle would then lead and shepherd a community in this new place.  (Sound familiar from what I was talking about before? 😉 This was the beginning of what later would be known as a “diocese”) Over the years, Christianity spread, and this tradition of apostolic succession remained. Approximately 2000 years later it still stands.

The pope and the other bishops today are the successors of Peter and the first apostles, who answered the call of Christ and established His Church, as one body of believers, in one accord, as Jesus desired for it to be.

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