The Church is in the midst of a Synod on Synodality. Three stages – diocesan, national, and continental – have already been completed. In Rome the first of two global stages has already begun and will conclude on Saturday, Oct. 28. The second will take place in October 2024.
Much ink or pixels on a screen will be spilt on who said what and what it all means. At the heart of the global Synod stands the person of the Holy Father and the exercise of his Petrine ministry. It might be advantageous for Catholics to take a step back from all the commentators on the Synod and deepen our faith in the Petrine Office and renew our love for the Pope.
St. Catharine of Siena once said that the Pope was il dolce Christo in terra (“sweet Christ on earth”). He is the successor to St. Peter and carries out the God-given ministry in the Church of “strengthening the brethren,” “promoting unity,” “feeding the sheep,” and “keeping the keys.” Introducing himself to the World Council of Churches in 1969, Pope St. Paul VI said, “So here we are among you. Our name is Peter.”
Like the apostles, every Catholic affirms the service of Peter as an instrument of unity as given by Christ and lived in the Church. The Church witnesses this throughout history in the teachings of the popes and in their authority over the local churches.
While the person of the pope throughout history has not always been the best example of Christian living (just ask St. Catharine of Siena), there can be no genuine communion with the Catholic Church without communion with the Pope and the filial love and respect for his office.
Pope Francis – the present Peter among us – has many admirable, personal qualities. They are not the foundational reasons for our love and respect, these are from our faith in Christ and His Church, but they are helpful incentives to increase our love and respect.
Pope Francis is a man who consistently practices simplicity of life. He possesses a very approachable personality, and he has a special ability to reach out to those who have felt disconnected from the Church. These are all good and attractive qualities of the man who now possesses the role of Peter in the Church.
The United States is inundated with consumerism and often promotes a “throwaway culture,” as Pope Francis says. There are many ways in which each of us can cut back on our material benefits and give more financial assistance to the poor and charitable organizations like our parish. The only possible way to avoid being consumed by consumerism is by being more detached and generous.
Pope Francis has also exhorted us to “acquire the smell of the sheep.” How well do I know my neighbors, family members, and friends? Do I reach out with a call, text, or email when they are struggling? Can I honestly say that I know other people and I allow myself to be known?
Finally, the Holy Father constantly reaches out to the “peripheries” – those who feel disenfranchised from Christ and the Church. We all know people who are on the peripheries. Maybe they will never be satisfied with the demands of the Gospel, but each Christian can still make the effort to reach out and try to draw them closer to the Church.
The Pope, no matter who he is, is “a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity,” as Vatican II says. As Catholics, we rely on his ministry and love him as our shepherd.
By Monsignor Andrew Baker, rector of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md. Among his previous assignments, he served at the Vatican with the Congregation of Bishops 2001-09.