When I heard the news that Pope Benedict had resigned I put a lighthearted comment on my social media pages: "There’s a vacancy in the Vatican. Thinking of applying. Your thoughts?" There were lots of comments, some suggesting I’d be better off running for Prime Minister! One person asked the question: "What would you do if you were made Pope, Rob?" It’s a good question that got me thinking. Here’s my answer
Putting theological differences aside (such as the veneration of Mary and praying to the saints; the doctrines of transubstantiation and purgatory), there are many things that I appreciate about the Catholic Church.
Firstly, they believe in God as well as in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We certainly do have our doctrinal differences but having faith in God as well as in the finished work of Jesus to redeem humanity, have got to be the two most important things to believe. There are over one billion Roman Catholics in the world today (it’s the biggest Christian denomination in the world) ~ and each and every one of them is loved by God; and each and every one has faith in God and in His Son, Jesus.
Secondly, the Catholic Church does a lot of amazing work in education, health and social justice. Catholic education in Australia began in the 19th century and has grown to be the second biggest sector after government schools with more than 650,000 students and around 21% of all secondary school enrolments. The 75 hospitals and 550 residential and community aged care services operated by the Catholic Church in Australia comprise the nation's largest non-government health provider. In 2010 our then two-year-old daughter, Trinity, was critically ill with pneumonia. It was at a Catholic hospital Cabrini, that she got the most amazing care and treatment. We will never forget the kindness and attention of the staff. Christie and I are deeply appreciative that our precious little girl made a full recovery.
Thirdly, the Catholic youth movement continues to reach hundreds of thousands of youth and young adults around the world. The annual World Youth Day, established by Pope John Paul II in 1984 has attendances between 400,000 and five million people. The theme song for the 23rd World Youth Day was "Receive the Power", written by Guy Sebastian (winner of the first Australian Idol contest in 2003) and Gary Pinto. It was built around the theme chosen by Pope Benedict XVI: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses" (Acts 1:8). The lyrics (http://www.justsomelyrics.com/793885/Guy-%2B-Paulini-Receive-The-Power-Lyrics) are amazing and it’s a song that our congregation has enjoyed singing over the past few years.
Other things I appreciate about the Catholic Church ~ their reverence for God; their observance of milestones and pathways of faith such as First Communion; the great sacrifice made by priests and nuns (and many other church workers and volunteers) in making a difference for good amongst the poor and marginalised; and the strong ethical and moral foundation that is taught to children.
I have found that Catholics also tend to have a strong theology of suffering that draws people to God during tough times. A theology of suffering is often sadly lacking in the contemporary church so that, when people inevitably go through difficult times, they are tempted to blame God and even walk away from their faith. I have found the opposite to be true of Catholics that I have known. They realise that suffering is part of life and draw closer to God in order to receive strength. Like the apostle Paul we need to pray, "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death" (Phil 3:10).
So, they are the things I wouldn’t change if I were Pope. But there would be some things I would change. Firstly, I'd allow priests and nuns to marry if they wanted to. Forbidding people to marry is strictly forbidden in Scripture (1 Timothy 4:3) and was not adopted as church practice until the First Lateran Council of 1123 (however, Pope Alexander VI (1492- 1503) is known to have fathered nine illegitimate children and openly kept a mistress in the Vatican). And that’s the problem. Denying someone’s right to a life-partner can sometimes lead to unhealthy expressions of sexuality including pedophilia. And on that subject, if I were Pope I would totally cooperate with the authorities over the child abuse scandals and remove all priests and church workers who were guilty of such crimes. There also needs to be adequate care of and compensation to those whose lives have been affected – or even ruined – by such horrendous acts of abuse.
If I were Pope I would allow ordination of women priests. I believe women bring a wonderful balance of care, compassion, discernment and insight into the church. To deny them the right to minister ~ and to deny the church of their ministry ~ is simply wrong. In Bible times women played a key role in the spread of the Gospel, being the first to report the news of the risen Christ as well as teaching and preaching in the first century church. I’ll say more on this in a future blog.
If I were Pope I'd remove the ban on the use of contraceptives that often leads to increased poverty because of large families. Nowhere does the Bible forbid contraception. In fact it implies otherwise by admonishing us to take good care of our families emotionally, physically and spiritually. This can hardly be done properly when parents are having more children than they can provide for. A person's decision as to how many children they have is a personal one – not a matter for the church to legislate on.
Finally, if I were Pope I would encourage all Catholics to take the next step in their faith from simply believing in God and Jesus to accepting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. The Bible says "all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). If I’m sick and the doctor gives me medicine just believing the medicine will make me better won’t be enough. I have to receive the medicine and then I will recover. It’s the same with Jesus. Just believing in Him may not change our lives ~ receiving Him will.
If that describes you why don’t you pray this prayer now?
"Father God, I thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus. I believe that Jesus died on a cross to pay the price for everything I’ve done wrong. I believe Jesus rose again so that I can be fully pardoned and completely saved. I receive you Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. Come into my life, forgive me and fill me with your Spirit. From this day on I will live my life in relationship with you. Amen"