Today is the Feast Day for St. Peter the first Pope. There is nothing that separates Catholic Christians from other Christian denominations, both Protestant and Orthodox, more than the Catholic Tradition of the ongoing papacy. Over 2000 years later, the Catholic Pope still holds a place of interest to the larger world.
American Presidents and other world leaders will meet with the Pope and these meetings are considered to be newsworthy. World Youth Days gather large crowds of people because the Pope will be present to speak to the youth and offer a pertinent message. Pilgrims still travel to Rome to tour the Vatican. The Pope has some influence in the world even though he has no real army, no weapons, no authority other than that of a spiritual leader to one of the world’s largest Christian denominations.
There are many people in the world who assume that the Catholic Pope has more power than he really does. All Cardinals, Bishops, Priests and Deacons are supposed to follow Church teachings simply because it is the “right” thing to do. The Catholic Pope has no more power over those he leads than Jesus Christ had over his own apostles who abandoned him. In centuries past this was not true. Sinful corruption between Church and State initiated the Protestant Reformation. This kind of corruption can still happen today if there are powerful parishioners who enable Priests and Bishops to be corrupt as portrayed in the recent Academy Award winning movie Spotlight. However, much of the worldly power of the past Popes has faded away. Now those who chose to follow Catholic Christian teachings do so by their own freewill, just as Christ intended it to be.
The Catholic reading from Sacred Scripture for today speaks to all clergy, “Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:2-4).