As Pope Francis takes up the mantle of leading 1.2 billion Catholics across the world, he understands the time period in which he faces his papacy. It is no more or less challenging than the turmoil that faced the first Pope, St. Peter, the Apostle. Were there scandals in the church to begin with – yes, if we consider Judas, another of Christ’s apostles. Was St. Peter’s leadership confronted by an immoral political and social culture? The Roman Empire could well fit this description. Were there other faiths that posed critical issues for the early church? The Jews? The Greek and Roman pagan faiths? Most certainly. Did Christ’s neophyte church suffer persecutions from those that did not understand its teachings? Yes.
NBC News reports that there are 7 challenges facing our new pontiff: Cleaning up internal problems, particularly those who betray the church, dealing with the sex scandals that have plagued us, getting along with other faiths and dealing with the secular cancer that has infected many members of the faith, the question of women priests and/or married priests, modern outlooks toward family planning, and the problem of over 100 million Christians being persecuted and oppressed around the world. Sound familiar?
Pope Francis’ leadership must tackle some of the same issues that faced the early church. Within the past 24 hours since the election of our new pope, Catholics have a renewed sense of hope. Though our personal votes may not always result in trustworthy leadership in our nation or communities, we can put our faith in the leadership that is, after all, guided by the Holy Spirit. Despotic leaders, corrupt politicians, and deceptive presidents may come and go, but we know that the Pope has one agenda only: Christ’s agenda. It is Jesus Christ’s mission that is at the heart of every papacy. The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church provides us with a strong and steady course.
In recent decades much pressure has been placed on the Catholic Church to “get with the times,” to relent to modern demands to relax the rules imposed by our faith – particularly in areas of contraception, abortion, euthanasia, divorce, and most recently, gay marriage. The Church has remained committed, not to the will of the people, but to God’s will. It is a tough stand to take in modern times as it was in the past (Henry VIII’s insistence on being granted a divorce, St. Gianna Molla’s doctors recommending an abortion, etc…) The Church stands firm, not because of some archaic ideals, but because the gospels are timeless. The call to sanctity is not achieved by relenting to a relaxed and redefined form of God’s commandments, it is achieved through sacrifice. We sacrifice our will to God’s will. Would it not be much easier for the Church to relent and go along with modern ideals? Of course, but then who would need a church?
Pope Francis faces one challenge only – to keep Christ’s church on course, destination Heaven. In him we have found leadership we can trust. He is not afraid of opposition – he has already faced it in Argentina. He has the reputation of being humble and prayerful. Pope Francis’ mission as a priest was to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. His Papal leadership is one which we can trust.
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