She would have fallen long ago, if not for the Holy Spirit

There is a common sentiment I am hearing from friends who are converts within the last decade, fear and anxiety about the Pope for no other reason than he is not Benedict. I think the Crescat does a good job of describing what many of them are feeling in her analogy of the father abandoning his children that she links to in this post. She acknowledges that God has given us the Pope we need in Pope Francis and many of my friends agree but are still anxious. Because it’s change and we humans resist change. Even those who come from intact homes have felt that sense of abandonment because it means giving up what they know, what they love and embracing the unknown.

Interestingly though, former fundamentalist turned Catholic (and guess what, her husband will be received at the Easter Vigil this year!) Elizabeth Esther posted this when Benedict’s resignation was first announced. In it she says,

Growing up fundamentalist, we passionately decried the papacy of Rome. We said it was unbiblical for one man to have all that power and authority. We eschewed centralized power. At least, we said we did. The reality was that my childhood church was centered around one, charismatic personality whose authority went unquestioned. My grandfather claimed he was “just a brother among brothers” but the truth was that he actually had MORE power than the Catholic Pope because everyone deferred to him. When my grandfather fell, the entire church fell apart, too.

And goes on to say this later on:

One of the reasons I came to Catholicism was because so many Protestant churches had either discarded foundational Christian beliefs (many times in order to stay “relevant” and “seeker friendly) or had a pastoral power structure that was simply unsustainable.

I found a silent witness of peace and humility in the Catholic Church. I found this despite all the scandals, human sinfulness, screw-ups and messy history of the Church.

I came to Catholicism for many reasons and one of them was the unbroken, papal succession directly tracing itself back to the Apostle Peter. Somebody is leading this Church, I thought, and if it were just a mere man, this whole Catholic thing would have fallen apart centuries ago.

I realized I could believe the Holy Spirit was leading the Catholic Church.

Being married to a lapsed, confused Protestant all these years now (10 and counting) I can attest that in some sectors of Protestantism there are mini-Popes. My husband would try out new churches and go to the one who had the most charismatic preacher. (And please note, I am not speaking of what we Catholics refer to as the Charismatic movement.) When that particular minister left he would church shop again. Now, certainly not all mainline Protestants (as he was) and not all Fundamentalists even do that, but enough do, particularly in fundamentalism. And a new trend I am seeing in many born-again and Fundamentalist circles from people who recognize the mini-Pope syndrome, and dislike it, is home-church. No designated leader, typically fewer than 10 families gathering for prayer, fellowship and occasionally Bible reading. The way one friend who has embraced the “home church” movement explained it to me was this, “I just got tired of creating new churches only for them to fall into the same traps. Total loyalty to a Pastor and his singular interpretation of God’s word. But constantly changing doctrine.”

Now how does this relate back to converts who are uneasy about Francis because they are mourning Benedict  you ask? Well, for SOME, not all, but SOME this loss feels like the loss of an extremely charismatic church leader that could lead to the fall of the church. Not logically, but it outwardly resembles that loss. This loss was a trigger. (I do not claim this is what the Crescat is alluding to, in her blog post, she points, in her case to the idea of it as a trigger of coming from a broken home.) And one fundy to Catholic convert of two years I am friends with agreed. She had three churches implode she was attending in the 10 years previous to her conversion and she said that anyone who lives through those kinds of experiences that shake them to their cores are pretty well shell-shocked and so a repeat or something that appears the same creates at the very least a nervous situation. And that is how she said she was very tempted to view Benedict’s resignation. She said she knew from her priest and spiritual director and former RCIA director that there were systems in place to select a Pope and it would proceed in that fashion but it was difficult at times for the logic, the fact that this just works, to seep past her emotions. As Elizabeth pointed out, if the church were not guided by the Holy Spirit, with all the things it has been through, the Medicis, Borgias, Crusades, Reformation, and Schism, it would have folded long, long, long ago.

If you know a convert who has been through this kind of loss in a previous church community and is experiencing doubt and fear (which are normal fears, even a few die-hard cradle Catholics I know have been going through them to some degree) the best thing you can do is pray with and for them and be patient. Remind them that the process is completely guided by the Holy Spirit. And Elizabeth’s post is a great reference point for those in a panic written by someone who has suffered under the weight that they are.

People are having difficulties for many, many reasons and this is just one that some people may be suffering from. I know cradle Catholics who are upside down about it for different reasons and other converts who have other concerns. This is an adjustment for everyone. Including Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict. It is best to be prayerful and patient. And let the Holy Spirit do His work in our world and in our hearts.