Sunday, August 23, 2020

’Pick-a-Pope’: It’s the game EVERYBODY plays!


(Twenty-first Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on August 23, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 22:19-23; Psalm 138:1-8; Romans 11:33-36; Matthew 16:13-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-first Sunday 2020]]

“Pick-a-Pope”: It’s the game EVERYBODY plays! 

Every once in a while, someone (usually a non-Catholic) will say to us, “Do you believe in the pope?”

Now there’s a very subtle presumption behind that question, and we need to be aware of it.  The presumption is that if you don’t accept the authority of the Holy Father in Rome (currently Pope Francis), then you don’t believe in a pope.  But that’s not true!  It’s my contention that EVERYONE has a pope!  Presbyterians have a pope; Anglicans have a pope; Baptists have a pope; people who call themselves “non-denominational” have a pope; Muslims, Buddhists and even atheists have a pope!

That’s because everyone has an authority who guides them, who defines the meaning of human existence for them, and who teaches them right from wrong.  So the real question is not, “Do you believe in the pope?”  The real question is, “Which pope do you believe in?”

In this regard, there are a number of possibilities.  For example, there’s what I would call the “Feel-Good Pope.”  Those who follow him live almost exclusively by their emotions.  If it feels good, then in their estimation it must be okay.  Or how about the “Gallup Pope?”  He’s named after the famous poll-taker.  Those who follow him form their views and attitudes based on what the majority says.  Thus if 85% of Catholics polled say they think artificial contraception is morally acceptable, those who follow the Gallup Pope immediately add their names to the 85%. 

A very popular pope among young people today is what I would call the “Peer Pope.”  He lives, and acts, and speaks through their friends.  Whatever these friends say, is considered to be the truth.

Or how about the “Pop Pope?”  (Try saying that one quickly 10 times!)  Those who follow the Pop Pope are those who are unduly influenced by the ideas of contemporary “pop” culture—ideas which come through the music they hear, through the media, the press, the Hollywood crowd, sports heroes and self-help gurus.  Of course, most of all, followers of the Pop Pope are influenced these days by the ideas they encounter on social media.

Because everyone knows, if it’s on Twitter or Instagram or Facebook it’s got to be true.  Right?

Now those are just some of the possibilities.  Believe it or not, other possible popes even include some Protestant evangelists and theologians.  Think, for example, of how many people followed the late Billy Graham as if he had been designated the authoritative interpreter of God’s Word!  These people would have denied that they believed in a pope; and yet, they listened to Graham as if he was God’s appointed mouthpiece here on earth.  Consequently they obeyed him as good Catholics will obey the Holy Father.

Even those who have no religious affiliation whatsoever have a pope—in the sense that they have a person or group of people to whom they look for guidance and direction.  For example, many of the people rioting in our cities this summer—as well as the women who founded the organization “Black Lives Matter”—have the same pope.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him; his name is Karl Marx.  The liberal media doesn’t tell you this stuff, my brothers and sisters, but it’s true.  Many of these rioters are professed Marxists, who literally want to destroy American culture as we know it and create some kind of socialist utopia—with themselves in charge, of course.

It’s scary what’s going on out there these days!

Everybody has a pope, whether they’re conscious of it or not.  That’s why I began my homily by saying, “Pick-a-Pope: It’s the game EVERYBODY plays!”

So, which pope do you pick?

Personally, I want to pick the pope that Jesus Christ picked.  Because that’s the right pope!  In today’s Gospel text from Matthew 16, we see Jesus making his choice.  He says to Peter, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build by Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”  Here Jesus gives papal authority to Peter—the authority of “spiritual fatherhood” in his Church.  And then Jesus indicates that this authority is to be passed on to others in the future when he says, “I give you [Peter] the keys to the kingdom of heaven.”  In Isaiah 22 (the text we heard in our first reading today) the “keys” symbolized dynastic authority—authority which would be passed on from one person to another.  The authority Eliakim received in the kingdom of David was the authority of an established office.  And so it is with the papacy.  Peter’s authority didn’t die when he did.  It was passed on to Linus, then to Cletus and Clement . . . and finally to Pope Francis. 

So you see, contrary to what some non-Catholics would have us believe, the Church didn’t “invent” the Catholic papacy—Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior did!

And so, for me, the game is easy.  The pope I pick is the same one Jesus picked.  My prayer today is that the Pick-a-Pope game will be just as easy for all of you.