I first met Pope John Paul II as “Mr. Seymour.” My cousins and I were playing a game of “funeral,” and trailing a tricycle with the pope’s picture from a calendar tied to it. We pretended to mourn in wails and sobs as someone sang a made-up dirge, “Poor Mr. Seymour, died of a heart attack, but he will soon rise in heaven…”
We hadn’t even made it to the tomb when, my grandmother abruptly ordered us to cease and desist our morbid, disrespectful game. There was no explanation given but I understood, oh I understood, that the Pope was a person who deserved utmost reverence.
Strangely, I re-encountered Blessed John Paul II at his funeral. I’d just begun to fully appreciate my faith a few years back and I found out about his greatness at the reports of his work in ending communism, promoting Divine Mercy and commencing World Youth Day. His wisdom I would encounter later when I read his writings on Our Lady. Personally, the whole motif of Totus Tuu was his greatest impact on my life, as I soon followed in his footsteps of consecrating myself to Our Lady.
Pope Benedict XVI’s term brought me to a deeper understanding and love for the Eucharist. With his encouragement of the Latin Mass, I discovered a different, reverent form of worship that had totally escaped me all my Catholic life. I veiled, fell in love with Sacred Tradition and Liturgy and returned to receiving Communion on the tongue during his term. My children, Deo Gratias, know more Latin chants than I did at their age.
When Pope Francis was declared Pope of the New World, my response was overwhelming and immediate. Here was a Pope from a developing country, like mine, who understood the struggles of a poor Church in making a mainstream of gold altars and pipe organs, and the hypocrisy of living a grandiose life when others barely have enough to eat. I am humbled every time I read about his simplicity. He is a constant reminder that Jesus chose to be born in poverty. His profound spiritual thoughts often have me checking my propensity for legalism, scrupulosity, materialism and vanity under the guise of beauty.
I love all three popes. To me, each of them offered/s a distinct gift to the Church. Pope John Paul II brought us under the mantle Our Lady, Pope Benedict XVI brought us to the glory of the Eucharist and Pope Francis takes us out of the Church to bring Our Lord and Our Lady to our daily lives, and in the service of our ill society.
My faith grew deeper as the papacy changed hands and I was fuller for having learned from the wisdom of three holy men. When a successor came into office, it did not erase, subtract or negate what their predecessor taught. On the contrary, it brought more meaning, more learning, more love for the Catholic faith.
Undeniably, my childhood experience impacted my tamed tongue, and to this day, I cannot bring myself to criticize what the Popes decide to do, why they say it and how they lead the Church. Popes aren’t perfect but they are chosen by the Holy Spirit to answer specific needs in the Church. If I knew better, then God would have made me a man, called me to be a priest and ensured that I was duly elected by the conclave, handing me the keys to heaven and all. But I’m just a Catholic blogger, whose words face a choice to build up the Catholic Church or tear it down.
As the seat of Peter changed pontiffs in recent years, Christ shows us that what he teaches through his representatives on earth are not mutually exclusive. They all flow from one source of wisdom and love. Complimenting a successor’s spirituality or praising a predecessor doesn’t diminish the other anymore than glorifying God the Father diminishes Jesus or the Holy Spirit. However, criticizing one of the popes is an affront to the other because it knocks down the Seat of Peter, weakens our respect and reverence for it, and further divides the pope’s already divided Church family.
Wouldn’t our time be better spent being grateful for what our popes are giving us rather than grumbling about what we think they are taking away? And for St. Peter’s sake, let’s pray for our pope. His is not an easy job.
© 2013. Anabelle Hazard. All Rights Reserved.