A Catholic's Reflection on Papal Infallibility, Pope Francis, Bishop Strickland, and the State of the Catholic Church
As Catholics, we do not get to choose our pope. We must accept, on faith, that God chose the right man for the job no matter how things look on the surface.
We must place our trust in Christ’s promise that, “…I will found this Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it,” as relayed to us in Matthew 16:18. That isn’t always easy.
I’ll be the first to admit I found Pope Francis difficult to accept and to embrace. His actions troubled me. He seemed to elevate those who undermined Church traditions and trash those who upheld them.
In the end, after a disagreement with a fellow sister in Christ over this matter, I decided to stop arguing with the members of the body over things. Instead, I took it up with Christ and asked for His guidance.
Reflecting on Matthew 8:24-26
“And suddenly a great storm arose on the sea, so that the waves rose high over the ship; but he lay asleep. And his disciples came and roused him, crying, Lord, save us, we are sinking. But Jesus said to them, Why are you faint-hearted, men of little faith? Then he rose up, and checked the winds, and the sea, and there was deep calm.”
I am a disciple and the Catholic Church is the boat. The stormy waters lash the wood of our ship on every side. We are helpless to do anything about the raging waters. We can do nothing on our own.
Jesus remains in the boat with us. However, His eyes appear closed and He sleeps while we face our fears. These moments make it difficult to hold onto faith that God’s going to live up to His promise that, “…everything helps to secure the good of those who love God.” – Romans 8:28
Even the storm of this moment - when a pope many struggle to embrace forces a beloved bishop from office - is not meant for our harm but for our ultimate good and that of the Catholic Church. We don’t need to know how it will work to our advantage, only that it will.
Stay in the Boat...and Follow Christ's Example
Many abandon ship when things get turbulent, but to abandon the ship is to abandon Jesus. Stay in the boat no matter how things look.
God allows these moments to teach us to surrender our will to His. These Agony in the Garden moments provide opportunities for us to reflect on what attachments we hold that may be creating false idols in our lives.
Love of a bishop is good and healthy, but if we allow that love to lead us away from Christ, we make a false idol of a man. Love of a parent is good and healthy. But if we allow that love to come before our love of Christ, we make a false idol of our parents.
We must let nothing remove us from the boat, but cling to Christ with confidence that He knows where we’re headed and will calm the storm in due season even if He appears to sleep right now. We must always, always follow Proverbs 3:5, “Put all thy heart’s confidence in the Lord, on thy own skill relying never.”
The minute we try to take the helm or steer the ship, or worse – jump ship because we’ve lost faith in Christ – that’s the moment we’ve put ourselves in the place of Christ.
For my own part, I will not be the one to tell Christ He doesn’t know what He’s doing. Faith that He’s got it all under control and that I am safe as long as I rest in Him is what will see us all through to the end of the storm, no matter how high the waves may come.
This Isn't the Church's First Stormy Sea
For those who find this a bitter pill to swallow, and I understand how hard it can be, I recommend the Surrender Novena. This Novena originates from Servant of God Don Dolindo Ruotolo, a contemporary and friend of Padre Pio. Don Dolindo said that it came from Christ himself.
I also recommend spending time meditating on the Agony of the Garden in the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Ask God for the grace to say – and to mean it – “Not my will but yours be done,” as Christ did.
God's Strength Is Revealed in Weakness
The truth is that God acts in ways we do not always understand. He does not choose His leaders for their strengths, but for their weaknesses.
If a man known for being able to lift 1200 pounds lifts 1200 pounds, the credit goes to his own strength. If, however, a man well known for struggling with lifting 5 pounds can bench press 1200 pounds, all those who know him will know that something greater than that man is acting in him.
As Saint Paul was told by Chrst, “…my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12.
We can see this in Moses, too. He thought his stuttering was too great a weakness to make him an effective speaker before Pharoah. He didn’t see what God saw.
Pharoah’s daughter raised Moses. Whether by true maternal love or merely due to her pride, you can be assured that she did everything in her power to heal Moses’s stutter. When Pharoah, who claimed to be a god, could not do it, nor could any of their magicians or others who claimed supernatural powers, that undermined their claims of power.
If Moses then welked into Pharoah’s court speaking clearly and without any problems, everyone who knew him would have known that something greater than Pharoah was at work here. God’s presence would be made known in a powerful way.
Pope Francis is a man of many weaknesses, as we all are. Peter was likewise a man of many weaknesses.
Yet those weaknesses are not proof that he is not qualified for the job that the Lord assigned him. It is proof only that God does not choose his leaders as we do, for his understanding of the situation we face is not the same as ours. He sees the whole picture. Our view is limited.
The Remedy for Troubled Times: Patience, Persistence, and Prayer
It is not for us to know where God is directing our ship. It is not for us to know why He allows the storm to come up. It is for us to trust in Him and His ways.
Until the time comes when we understand, there are only three things we can do to remedy the situation: Patience that all will be revealed to us in due season and persistence in prayer for the grace to surrender ourselves to God’s will and allow Him to work in His way.
Let Us Love One Another, As Christ Loves Us
If you’re struggling to embrace Pope Francis, my heart goes out to you. If you can’t understand how anyone could reject Pope Francis, be compassionate toward those who do struggle.
Speaking from my own experience, those who shut me down or looked down on me for the struggles I went through didn’t help me to end those struggles. They prolonged them. Rather than meeting compassion and understanding, along with offers to pray with me through it, I met condescension about my fears and condemnation for my doubts.
You may see no problem in what Pope Francis does, but try to put yourself in the shoes of those who do see problems. Try to understand their point of view so that you can meet them where they are and walk with them to where you know they need to be.
Our Church is stronger when we are united. That is the point of papal infallibility: it creates a unified front we can present to the world. It’s important to remember that we are not each other’s enemies. Satan wants us to act like enemies and to fight so that we can’t unite against the truth threats to our Church: sin and ignorance.
Above all, let us love one another, as Christ loves us. If we will love one another, the rest won’t matter. Christ’s kingdom will come as God’s will is being done.