Pope Francis: Modelling the Ministry of St Peter

Archbishop Costelloe

A reflection by Archbishop Timothy Costelloe of Perth, given this week at the 10th National eConference by The Broken Bay Institute and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

The overall topic of today's conference, 'Pope Francis - modelling the Ministry of Saint Peter,' invites us, among other things, to turn our gaze on Simon Peter as he emerges from the pages of the New Testament, and perhaps particularly from the pages of the Gospels, and see what we might discover there which can help us enter a little more deeply into the way in which Pope Francis, with a freshness and a freedom that we were not perhaps expecting, is going about the Petrine ministry.

It is a ministry, I suspect, that he never expected to experience and one, I feel quite confident in saying, he would never have chosen for himself. He accepted the decision of the Conclave, I presume, in a spirit of obedience because he believed that this was not just the wish of the cardinals but an expression, through them, of the will of God for the Church.

For those of us who are Catholics, this is probably our conviction too, just as it was with the election of Pope Benedict, of Pope John Paul II, and of his predecessors. It is certainly a part of our faith that the papacy is an essential dimension of the life of the Church as God wishes the Church to be.

While, at a minimum, we can be sure that the Pope, whoever he might be at any given time in history, cannot destroy the Church or lead the Church into fundamental doctrinal error, we can also hope that the Holy Spirit is at work in the unfolding of the Church's journey through history and that, to the extent that those who choose the Pope are men of God and open to God's Spirit, the man chosen to be the Bishop of Rome will be a man chosen and sent by God.

He must then of course be open himself to the work of God's guiding Spirit if he is to be the man and the Pope the Lord and his Church needs him to be.

As a general rule this conviction invites us to avoid the temptation of playing one pope off against another. Rather we are challenged, I believe, to see how the very different popes we have had in our own lifetimes unveil different and necessary aspects of the mystery of Christ and his Church for us, in their teaching, but also in the way they go about their ministry.

In saying this, we must of course avoid the danger of what is sometimes referred to as 'pope-olatry.' It is important and vital to remember that the Pope is not, in the most fundamental sense, the head of the Church. Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and we are all the members of his body.

All of us, including the Pope, must be measured against the fundamental criterion of the Gospel and against the call - we might even say the demand - of Paul in the letter to the Philippians where he tells us that we must have in us the same mind that was in Christ Jesus.

This is the vocation of every Christian, no matter what place he or she might hold in the community of faith. Within this community of faith, the ordained ministers have received the call to be the living and effective signs of the ongoing presence of the Good Shepherd among his people.

Read full reflection: Pope Francis: Modelling the Ministry of St Peter (CathNews Relfections)

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