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The Rector writes ...
When I was received into full communion with the Catholic Church, an American Cardinal took the opportunity to express to me his belief that converts to the Church have a particular witness to offer to the role of the Papacy (which many “cradle” Catholics have either forgotten or take too much for granted). Those of us who have come late to the harvest are perhaps more aware of the treasure within the Church than those who have never lived without it. The agreed statement on Authority between Catholics and Anglicans accepts that: “the only see which makes any claim to universal primacy is the see of Rome, the city where Peter and Paul died”. The acceptance of that statement has consequences. Something that I recognised in an essay written as I moved towards my own reconciliation: “a local church, exercising autonomy in matters of doctrine, worship and ethics, without any safeguards, lays itself open to constant strife and division and also the cul-de-sacs of wrong belief”. Communion with the successors of Saint Peter offers those safe- guards and provides securities which can be found nowhere else.
One commentator on the passage from Saint Matthew (17:27) where Jesus is questioned about payment of the Temple tax shares this insight: “it is significant that Jesus wants to pay this tax in union with Peter and not any other of the apostles. Peter was recently the one to declare Jesus to be the ‘Son of the living God’ and so it is highly fitting that, when Jesus now proclaims this doctrine concerning the freedom of the children of God, he should so intimately associate Peter with himself in making him, yet again, the instrument of a revelation”. To concentrate too heavily on the personality of an individual pope is to miss the point. Among Peter’s successors there have been great saints, and some notable sinners: there have been men of enormous ability and some who were less gifted. There have been times when the exercise of the papacy has been edifying and others when it has been less so. But communion with Rome has been the touchstone of Christian orthodoxy through the centuries, and it is the transmission of the truth about Christ to a new age which is the essential papal commission. Saint Peter’s original act of faith – endorsed so powerfully by his companion in witness and martyrdom Saint Paul – has to be interpreted and proclaimed afresh by each of his successors.
The three Popes who have effected most of us in recent years are a Pole, a German and an Argentinian: very different in style and character, each has had his own emphases to add to the Church’s “magisterium” (its body of authentic teaching) but each has done nothing more than each of their predecessors in witnessing to the presence of the living Christ in the world of their own day.
Saint Thomas Becket, the martyred Archbishop of Canterbury (1181-1170) could write: “everyone knows that the keys of the kingdom of heaven were given to Peter. Upon his faith and teaching the whole fabric of the Church will continue to be built until we all reach full maturity in Christ and attain to unity in faith and knowledge of the Son of God”. The point of the papacy is that the name of Christ is guaranteed to be proclaimed to succeeding generations. Our communion with Peter, through his successors, anchors us firmly in the apostolic witness and assures us of our place within the universality of the Church: “the Bishop of Rome is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful" (Lumen Gentium). All this, of course, means that we have a special duty in love to pray for Pope Francis. We can do no better than use the Church’s ancient prayer from the Liturgy of Good Friday: “Almighty and eternal God, you guide all things by your word, and govern all Christian people. In your love, protect the Pope you have chosen for us. Under his leadership deepen our faith, and make us better Christians”.