Written before the election of Pope Francis, it seems Fr Dwight Longenecker may have gotten the kind of Pope he was looking for in Pope Francis.
Everyone’s personal history determines the way they look at the world. Our perspective and expectations are often influenced by foundational assumptions and first experiences. I am now a Catholic priest, but I was brought up in an American Evangelical home, and for fifteen years I was a member and priest of the Church of England.
My own perspective on the Papacy is influenced by these experiences, just as a cradle Catholic – whether brought up in Boston, Mumbai or Buenos Aires – is influenced by his life’s journey. My viewpoint is colored by my background, just as a another Catholic’s might be if he was brought up in Nigeria, Vietnam or New York. My hope for a new Pope is therefore not authoritative or definitive. It is not official Church teaching; it’s just my own opinion and my own personal hope.
One of the strengths of the evangelical movement is their insistence on a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” This is why I have been grateful for Pope Benedict XVI’s emphasis on “the encounter with Christ.” This personal experience of the reality of Christ and the validity of his message is vital for our modern age, so I hope the new Pope will continue this personal emphasis as he proclaims the Gospel.
Evangelicals are Bible-based. While the new Pope does not need to be a world class biblical scholar like Benedict XVI was, it is my hope that his message and ministry will be imbued with Sacred Scripture and that all his teachings will be filled with the radiance of God’s word.
For Evangelicals, missionaries and evangelists are heroes. In Sunday school, I learned about St. Peter and St. Paul not so much as the Apostles of the Church of Rome, but as men who heard the call of Jesus Christ to go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel. I think the Successor of Peter’s first calling is to step out of the boat as a man of faith, walk on the water with Christ and leave his fishing nets to become a Fisher of Men. In other words, I’m looking for a man of action, remembering that the book of the New Testament is the “Acts” of the Apostles, not the thoughts or the teaching or the quotable quotes of the Apostles.
Evangelicals believe the Church is merely a human institution. Their churches may be, but the Catholic Church is not. It is founded by Jesus Christ and built upon Peter, the Rock. However, there is a human dimension to the Church, and my hope for the Pope is that he will delegate the administration and management of the Church to able and efficient men so that he can focus on his apostolic mission to the world.
What do I treasure from my years as an Anglican? I value the rich tradition of the Anglican Church in the area of liturgy, music, art, literature and architecture. I hope the new Pope will continue to encourage a renewal of sacred liturgy and the best in art, architecture, music and literature as Pope Benedict did. I also hope that the new Pope will continue Benedict’s blessing on the Anglican Ordinariate. I want to see that flourish and become a true bridge into full communion with the Catholic Church for many of our separated brothers and sisters.
One of the reasons I became an Anglican is that I was looking for “the Big Old One” – in other words, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Eventually, my search led me through Anglicanism to Catholicism. My hope is that the new Pope will treasure the “great tradition” of historic Christianity. No matter how creative and intelligent he is, he really has nothing more to offer the world than the eternal truth of the Christian gospel in the fullness of the Catholic faith.
Consequently, at the heart of all my hopes for the new Pope, I trust that he will preserve, define and defend the Catholic faith. The core of this faith is the same historic faith held to by faithful Evangelicals and Anglicans and all Christians down through the ages. Therefore, as the Pope defines and defends the Catholic faith, he is also defining and defending the faith of all true Christians.
To sum up, I hope for a missionary Pope. I hope for a successor to Peter who not only defends the faith within the walled city of the Vatican, but who can also step on to the world stage with a message of forgiveness, joy, peace and hope.
In other words, I hope for a Pope who brings us hope.
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is Catholicism, Pure and Simple. Visit his blog and browse his books at dwightlongenecker.com.