This Post originally appeared on 24th March, 2013

GOD....... the ultimate topic. What we know about Him comes from Revelation : Faith and from Reason. We do know that he is Perfect and it follows that He is Beauty because that is a characteristic of perfection, and that He is Love we know by Revelation ( 1  John 4:8).

As Catholics we know that God in the Person of Jesus Christ established His Church as His project to bring to completion the salvation of the World, using the Divine gifts of the Seven Sacraments with which Jesus Christ had endowed her.And that He appointed Saint Peter and his Successors , as His Vicars on Earth and armed them with the Keys of the Kingdom and the Power to Bind and Loose,and the responsibility to strengthen the brethren, ensuring the proper governance of His Church.

The Vicar of Christ on Earth - the Bishop of Rome , the Pope thus holds an awesome office.

In God perfection symphonically harmonises every good, one might say - but this is inadequate because God IS perfection He is not made up of anything - He IS. Quite beyond our words to really describe. When Moses asks God for His Name , we see in Exodus 3:14 the reply : " I Am Who I Am". In other words : " I am no creature with equals, to need a name to distinguish Me - I simply AM."

But what of His Vicars on Earth? They are of course simply men, with all their mortal frailties, but aided by the Holy Spirit and the promise of Jesus Christ to be with His Church always until the end of Time. It follows that lacking Perfection , and being mortal men, these Vicars of Christ on Earth cannot at once project all the characteristics of the God they serve. No, they struggle within the bounds of time and their finite powers to do the best they can with the human capabilities they have as individuals, co-operating with Divine Grace.

So each one brings to the sacred office his own powers , abilities, experience and inclinations whilst co-operating with that Divine Grace. And each leaves behind him the body of teachings he has provided under Divine guidance, to enrich the Church throughout the ages , and the results of whatever he has been able to achieve whilst alive.It follows that not every Pope will, or could or should necessarily be, like his predecessor or his successor.

If we consider the last three Popes elected, we see all this well demonstrated:


In Blessed John Paul II we had a man of extraordinary brilliance in intellect, sanctity, personality, theatrical tendency. energy and spirit.Tried in the fires of Nazi oppression and Communist persecution he had been a Father of the Second Vatican Council and knew all that had gone on during and after it. He proved to be a great Teacher and Evangeliser to the whole world.He was robust and outgoing- confident in God and in himself. He was not interested in detailed hands on administration and trusted those to whom he delegated powers. He was , to use his own words from one occasion " generous" in dealing with some problems.

Benedict XVI had also seen the tail end of the Nazi era in his native Germany, and he had been a University Professor and a Peritus at the Second Vatican Council where he observed up close the work of those faithful to the Church and those promoting a false " spirit of the Council".For 25 years as Prefect of  the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he worked at Blessed John Paul II's right hand and provided strong support in Doctrinal matters ,whilst the Holy Father took Christ's message to the ends of the Earth confronting all manner of societies and cultures, winning them over with his Grace- filled personality and intellect. Whilst Benedict did not have that " big "personality,as Pope, his shy, humble and modest manner very quickly won over the faithful and indeed, his Angelus crowds soared above the already high figures achieved by Blessed John Paul II. It was said that they had come to " see" JPII but to" listen" to B XVI, whatever about that, they did come in much greater numbers. In his short 8 years Pontificate, Pope Benedict delivered a measured series of Encyclicals  and Apostolic letters and several important Motu Proprio letters including notably " Summorum Pontificum" dated 7th July, 2007 ( 070707 so easy to recall) which liberated the Traditional Mass which had been left in eclipse after the Novus Ordo's introduction.This will probably be among the most memorable actions of his Pontificate.Another, even bolder in its way, was the establishment of the Anglican Ordinariate provisions which have seen thousands of Anglicans, including hundreds of clergy returning to the Catholic Faith all around the World.

He had to endure the ordeal of Press vilification of the Church in Sexual Abuse cases which was a terrible ordeal, especially for such a gentle soul.

And in the latter days of his Pontificate he had to endure the so-called Vatileaks scandal which seems to have been associated in some way with tensions within the Curia. We may not know the full truth of the matter for a generation, or we may. At present we do not.Pope Benedict's gentlemanly, humble personality did not perhaps always make him the type of administrative leader the times called for.His 6 years of tolerance of the Australian Bishop Morris problem is an example.
And now God has sent us a surprise package Pope ! 

The Pope of many firsts : Pope Francis. The litany of firsts is becoming tedious already : Francis, Jesuit, South American( though both parents are Italian born), non-European for hundreds of years, Pope to be elected whilst his predecessor is alive in 600 years etc, etc.He is an instant media sensation and " good copy" with his obvious and operating humility, and simplicity.His fondness for surprising gestures on one occasion riding in a mini-bus, going to pay his own accommodation bill , deciding to say the Holy Thursday Mass in a youth Prison all provide fodder for the cameras. His addresses are good solid pastoral exhortations.The humble " gestures" are not mere media stunts but serious pastoral "demonstrations". We will have to await more substantial teaching documents, and also the hard administrative decisions that have to be made. The quality of the Episcopal appointments he makes will be critical - here in Australia alone the queue for decision is overly long . He is far from physically perfect : suffering the loss of one lung since his teenage years and visibly walking with some difficulty/unevenness.His obvious virtues shine, and at the same time we are told he can be a tough administrator and decision maker.


So there we have it - each of the last three Popes has been quite different , each has been able to expand upon certain aspects of the Catholic Faith and to meet the challenges they confronted /confront. But in their diversity, they have each served Christ with great fidelity and strengthened the brethren effectively using their God-given talents and Graces to the full. We thank God for them, and for their remarkable sanctity - a characteristic which is not an inevitable in holders of that sacred office.



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