In my so far 21 years of life, there have been 3 Popes. As with most Catholics, the significance of the Popes didn’t affect me until later on in my young adult life, and it is only now that I can start to look back and see what the Holy Father(s) have done and appreciate all that they have done and look forward to the fruits of their current work.
Pope St. John Paul II was the Pope of my early childhood, and like most of the things that happen outside of our immediate vicinity as children, I didn’t know nor particularly care for what he did. My parents would speak of when he visited the Philippines, and how we have the world record for largest Mass in history (Francis broke the record, in the same place, so we have the top 2 now lol). I didn’t know much, except that he visited a lot of places and a lot of people loved him.
If there is anything clear I remember about him, it is when he died. We were in a hospital because my uncle had cancer, and on the TV was the prayer vigil for JPII has he was nearing his last moments. Never before have I seen so many people gathered in prayer for one person before, and it made me want to at least look up what he did, and try to comprehend whatever 5th grade me can comprehend.
Then there’s Pope Benedict XVI. He’s the Pope of my childhood into my adult life. 5th grade happened to be the year my cousin introduced me to Age of Empires II, my intro to the RTS genre and a spark for my love of history. Basically, go get the game, and learn some stuff. Anyway, 2005 ish was when Wikipedia started being more popular, so I would basically play a mission in AoE II and then look up the history behind it, so I learned basic stuff on the Crusades, and what not. Church history fascinated me because the Catholic Church is one of the few still standing organizations left that can say it has lasted for about 2000 years. The United States is but a small child when compared to the Church and I’ve always wondered how such an organization can not only survive for 2000 years, but also grow.
My memories of Benedict XVI are mainly from middle school. My family got access to EWTN, and in 7th grade, every Wednesday, I would watch the weekly audience at St. Peter’s Square. I was just curious about what he had to say, and honestly, 7th grade me forgot most of what he had to say, but if there was ever a constant, it would be his chanting of the Pater Noster. That most holy of melodies has been forever ingrained in my head because of him.
After 7th grade however, I became really active in school with morning stuff and what not, so I stopped watching those weekly audiences, and so I stopped paying attention to what he said.
My sophomore year or high school however, was the first time I saw Benedict. It was also the first time my family went to Rome; it was Easter Sunday. If you read my post on praise and worship, you know why that Mass moved me so. It started my want to learn more.
Flash forward to 2013. I had just started to actually pay attention to what the Church says instead of what others say of it. I remember Benedict’s resignation and how the last time it happened, it was about 500 years ago. Everyone was going crazy.
But lo and behold, habemus papam. The Holy Spirit decided to go to the ends of the Earth and for the first time since the Apostolic Era, we have a Pope from outside Europe, and not just that, South America.
Pope Francis was “different.” Something seemed different. The mainstream media was all over him, from “who am I to judge” to him being a “liberal” Pope. It was only then that I had to look back on the two previous Popes to see what is going on.
St. Pope John Paul II’s papacy was during a tumultuous time. After succeeding the one month papacy of Pope John Paul I, who was the successor of Blessed Pope Paul VI, the Pope who ended the Second Vatican Council called forth by Saint Pope John XXIII. Paul VI said “from some crack the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.” The rushed implementation of the Council combined with the conflicts of the Cold War, rapid economic growth at the expense of humanity, and even the secular outlash against Humanae Vitae proved confusing to many Catholics around the world, and it was John Paul II’s mission to clarify to world what it meant to be Catholic. He visited countries around the world, canonized many Saints, and asked for forgiveness of the sins of the past, and formulated the Theology of the Body all to present to the world what it is we truly believe.
Pope Benedict XVI then continued the mission of clarifying the Church to the world. Almost like a modern Aquinas, he took what JPII did and then explained why we do things. From Deus Caritas Est to Caritas in Veritate, he showed why we must love and why we can do things out of love. All for the sake so that those who believe may fly to the heavens with the wings of faith and reason. With Summorum Pontificum, he brought into regularization the Extraordinary Form of Mass, reminding us that what was sacred in the past is still sacred today. And like Aquinas, he realized when it was time to leave things to God, and in a most stunning display of humility, he resigned when he realized he could no longer be fit.
Which then brings us to Pope Francis. The first Pope to come from the third world in a very long time. He is not liberal, or progressive, or willing to change doctrine. He is Catholic. He has taken the words of the Popes before him and reminded us that we are all sinners, and Holy Mother Church is a hospital for us sinners. The secular world is confused when they see a Catholic they like, because they can try to spin him to their liking, but he will come out proclaiming the same truth that has been proclaimed for the past 2000 years, using the same Gospel that Popes, Saints, Confessors, Doctors, and Martyrs have proclaimed before him.
Jesus said “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” When the world attacks the Successor of the Prince of the Apostles and the Servant of the Servants of God, let us remember that the Church has held firm.
Pray for our shepherds in the faith, that they continue to have the strength to steer the Barque of Peter and continue the work of the fishers of men.
Kingdoms and countries come and go, but God has already won.
After all, “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” ~Pope St. John Paul II
Have a blessed Lent