Why I’m Glad the Pope is ‘Just a Man’

“You actually follow the Pope?!” people have asked me, sure that this is just as silly as believing in fairies. “He’s just a man like you and me! What are you brainwashed?”

For many years, I wondered the same thing about Catholics. Before I entered the Church I questioned why so many people were devoted to a simple, strange old fellow in a white dress. After all, he’s just a man, right?

But today the fact that the Pope is “just a man” no longer keeps me away from the Church. In fact now it’s just the opposite; it’s one more reason I embrace her.

To understand why, we first need to turn to the Gospels. In Matthew 16, Jesus bestows a special power on Peter, his most prominent, yet brash disciple. Jesus explains that Peter is the Rock on which he would build his Church. In doing so he makes Peter the ambassador of his kingdom, vesting him with his own divine authority.

Yet what’s often neglected is how unsettling this choice was. Jesus had plenty of seemingly better options. He could have gone with the mystical John, the compassionate James, or the sharp-minded Matthew. Or what about Andrew, the first to believe? But Jesus nevertheless settled on Peter.

It didn’t take long for these concerns to be validated. Immediately after naming him the first Pope, Jesus accuses Peter of being in league with Satan. Later on, Jesus questions Peter’s faith and, if that wasn’t enough, Peter betrays Jesus three times during the most important moment of his life.

However Jesus seemed to know what he was doing. While Peter had a propensity to fail, his flops were always redeemed. Time and again they’d be trumped by his repentance and humility. For instance, Peter went from sinking in water to sailing the ship of the Church. He denied Jesus three times but then affirmed his love again and again and again. Most importantly, Peter fled from the Garden of Gethsemane but raced toward his martyrdom, which included a brutal upside-down crucifixion.

So what does this have to do with my love for the papacy? Well it all leads to one simple fact: the papacy started with “just a man” and since then has been nothing more. Now when I say ‘man’, I’m not talking about mere masculinity. I’m talking about the true humanity that we all share. The salty, tragic, wonderful mishmash of traits that makes us human; the mix of benevolence and evil and generosity and shame that fills us all.

A glance at the papacy down through the centuries reveals this spectrum. For example, we’ve had our fair share of salty popes. Pope John XII murdered scores of people and was caught in bed with another man’s wife. Pope Urban VI tortured dozens, if not hundreds, of conspirators. And Pope Stephen VI exhumed the dead body of his predecessor before throwing it in a river. The papacy, like mankind, has its warts.

But on the flipside, we’ve had many honorable popes. Think of men like Gregory the Great, Leo XIII, and Pope John Paul II (and, may I add, Pope Benedict XVI). Though they weren’t perfect by any measure, these men captained the Church well and brought light to the entire world. Like the repentant Peter, they each submitted their wills (and faults) to God. So the papacy, like mankind, also has its beauty.

The pope has always been “just a man”. He’s like us in all ways including sin. He falls, he triumphs, he suffers, he sacrifices, he makes mistakes yet seeks redemption. He understands all of our difficulties for they are his own and has moments of glory that seem far beyond this world.

And that all, of course, makes sense: the only way God could save a world of humans was to become one himself. Likewise, the only way a pope can lead a Church of humans is be one of the crowd.

So I’d agree with the skeptic who says the Pope is “just a man” like the rest of us. And for that very reason–for that surprising, sometimes disturbing fact–I’m glad.

(Image Credit: Topnews.in)

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Brandon-Vogt-e1313148635944.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Brandon Vogt is a Catholic writer and speaker who blogs at The Thin Veil. He is also the author of a new book titled The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet, which was just released by Our Sunday Visitor.[/author_info] [/author]