I said something in my sermon last Sunday that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago. I asked my congregation to pray for the new pope – for our brother in Christ, Pope Francis I.
As I prepared that sermon, I tried to imagine the preacher of my childhood saying anything at all about the election of a new pope. And not to complain about him. It wasn’t him. It’s that the times then were different. Protestants were skeptical of Catholics. Or maybe that’s being kind about it. If we prayed at all for Catholics, the prayer would have been that they would see the error of their ways.
As a child, I learned of the Catholic Church’s many and grievous doctrinal errors, and now I wonder why that was so important. Couldn’t we have learned as well about the many strengths of the Catholic Church? (True, beating Notre Dame in football wouldn’t have been nearly as satisfying.)
But the world is now a different place. And maybe we’re beginning to recognize the truth of scripture – namely, that what happens in one part of the body affects the entire body. Whatever is happening these days in the Catholic Church is having an effect on those of us in the Protestant Church.
I said in my sermon last Sunday that I hope the Catholic Church is able to restore trust and to deal more effectively with the sexual abuse scandal. My reading tells me that the pope’s task is monumental – and very probably beyond the capability of any one person, even one as gifted as the new pope seems to be. All the more reason, it seems to me, to pray.
Corruptio optimi pessima is a new Latin phrase I learned this week, which means “the corruption of the best is the worst.” Even more loosely translated: “When things are bad in the church, they’re really bad.”
I think that’s true for all of us – Catholic or Protestant. Church conflict is the worst. It eats away at the soul. I’ve heard that fighting in condo associations is bad. I have a brother in law who tells me that faculty meetings at his university can be brutal. Some have suggested that country clubs experience terrible conflict too.
But there’s something even more insidious about a church disagreement. Maybe it’s that we expect so much more of each other. We start our meetings in prayer and say we follow Jesus with our lives. So, when we fall short of expectations, the disappointment is … well, devastating.
The church needs healing – the one I serve, the one with its leadership in Rome, actually the church all over the world. Let’s pray that Easter will bring new life, a new spirit of humility, a new determination to be the visible body of Christ in the world.