Like myself you are probably a bit in awe and wonder of the most recent person to occupy the chair of St Peter, Pope Francis. Given to him, like the other successors of St Peter, is the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the promise that he will be a rock for others, a rock on which the Church is built. What an incredible responsibility to take on, an unbearable burden, a crushing duty but one which he personally has assumed with what seems the greatest humility, the lightest of touches and a fascinating simplicity of life.
He lives in two simple guest rooms, in a hotel within the Vatican, along with other people who work there, turning his back on the papal apartments occupied by many of his predecessors. He wears the simplest of vestments and avoids wearing anything ostentatious. He travels in the most modest of cars. He always tries to put the poorest first. His words are not lofty and inaccessible but simple and direct. When he speaks he connects with people, hearts speaks to the heart. And he has a vision for the Church to make it a church for the poor, he has transformed Church buildings to feed, cloth and house the poor and homeless.
What we are witnessing in our midst is a reforming pontificate. The pope has outlined areas, started things which will hopefully be picked up by his successors in this great office. He is a pope who is interested about people who are at the margins of society and life. People who have been forgotten or excluded.
The office of St Peter is not supposed to be one of self elevation or pride, it is like all offices in the Church that are meant to be about service. In the past Popes have done strange things that seem to run contrary to that: become kings and princes, ruled over lands, went to wars with armies, led armies, called for invasions, toppled kings, played political games. It seems sometimes a long way from the humble fisherman who is called to strengthen his brothers and sisters, to be a rock for them and point the way.
Power can do strange things to people’s heads, even popes. Religious power can be very intoxicating. Not only do you think yourself right but you begin to think that God thinks you are right too, that is got to be dangerous. It is an office in which great good can be done but also harm too. I suppose that is the fear that strikes the heart of those who hold the office even for the shortest of times.
People are always anxious to hear what Pope Francis has to say. He always seems ahead of the curve. When no one else was talking about the plight of the migrants, he was. Everyone was worrying about their money and he was asking people to remember the poor. He speaks with eloquence on social issues: marriages, break ups, war, violence, armaments, ecology (green issues) and the like. People want to know what he thinks, what is his take, what is his insight. The voice of Peter goes throughout the world.
But he is always careful to speak about things in their connect us with the mystery of God and how he touches us. He always wants to speak about what like our relationship is with Jesus and what it means to walk with him, know him, speak to him and come to know him in our life.
There is a strange relationship between Jesus and St Peter in the Gospel, things happen between them that doesn’t happen to anybody else . There is a conversation between them that doesn’t take place with anyone else. Peter is given promises and things to do that nobody else is given to do. One of the things that comes out about Peter is not his strength but his frailty: he more often gets it wrong than he does get it right, he trips over his feet, puts his size 11 fisherman sandals in it. When he makes a decision it is usually the wrong one.. A lesson for any occupant maybe of the chair of St Peter. They are not chosen because of the fact that they will always get it right, God chooses them for what they have not got rather than what they think they have.
I think most of us can see how impossible the work is. The countless people to see. The numerous decisions to be made. The volume of problems. Everyone looking for answers and solutions.
How important is it that the person is the right fit, the right glove on the right hand. But is it ever perfect, does God not just use the rough clay that he is given to mould what he wants? Is the same not true for most of us.
It is important not to over exalt the office of the Pope, it is a role of service. He is not king over kings, he is nit a rule iver others, he is not to be fawned over. He is Peter the humble fisherman from Bethsaida whom the Lord called to follow him and whom he once called rock and commanded him the feed and look after the sheep. No more and no less.