Pope: Leader and Father

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
August 27, 2023
Matthew 16:13-20

The Catholic Church is known for her distinctive features and teachings, like belief in the Holy Trinity, the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, the Bible as the written Word of God, and the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary and other saints. Yet, one feature stands out because it is not only teachings, things, or rites but a living person. This is the Pope. Most of the earth’s population arguably recognizes modern-day popes, like St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. What are the roles of the pope? Why is the pope central to the Catholic Church?

Indeed, I cannot do justice here. I want to focus on the pope as our leader and father. Every human community needs leaders, and this includes the Catholic Church. While it is true that the real founder and head of the Catholic Church is Jesus Christ, He entrusted the role of leading and shepherding to man and his successors. This is why Jesus gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Why keys? Our first reading provides us with the answer [Is 22:19-23]. Here, through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord appointed Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, as the master of the palace. This was the highest position in the Kingdom, just second to the king himself. We can liken him to Prime Minister, who takes charge on the king’s behalf. How do we know that he is the master of the palace? He has the key to the house of David. Thus, like Eliakim, Peter received the keys to the Kingdom. Therefore, he is the master of the palace of Jesus Christ.

Then, why do we call the leader of the Catholic Church as Pope? The word pope comes from the Latin’ Papa,’ meaning ‘father.’ Then, why do we call him ‘father’ or ‘Papa’? Again, the answer goes back to the Old Testament, to Eliakim. As the master of the palace, Eliakim shall be the father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Therefore, like Eliakim, Peter shall be the father to the inhabitants of the Kingdom. While the leadership role is often clearly defined, the role of a father is often misunderstood. A father is a head figure in the family. Thus, Catholic Church is not only an organization but fundamentally a family.

A father protects and provides for his family. Thus, the pope is responsible for protecting the faithful from dangers, especially spiritual threats like false doctrines. He also provides for our spiritual needs, like Eucharist, prayers, and exhortations. Father is also a man who educates and disciplines his children. Therefore, the pope is expected to raise us in true faith and correct us if we begin to go astray. Indeed, a pope cannot take care of us individually. Still, he can lead and educate us through his representatives, especially bishops and parish priests.

One more thing that we must never forget is that the pope is also a frail human. We see Peter, who kept failing, then we may encounter some popes who do not meet our expectations. Indeed, it must be a difficult situation for the Church, but all the more, we need to pray for our leader and father.

Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP

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