Red Shoes And A Toolbox

February 17, 2013 — 1 Comment

When John talked about his unworthiness in untying Jesus’ sandals, that same analogy is appropriate as I contemplate the contributions of Pope Benedict XVI during his extraordinary life.

Papal Red ShoesPapa, I’m not worthy to even shine your red Papal shoes.

I say this in part as I read some of the criticism that has been leveled his way. Tough audience. It makes me wonder what he should have done–in their minds–to earn passing marks. Let me go out on a three-inch limb. If more people dedicated their lives to pursuits similar to those of Joseph Ratzinger, the world would be less dark, more loving and more open to the embrace of God.

May God bless this humble, soon-to-be former Pope in his life of prayer and inspire him to continue his charism as teacher nonpareil.


One hundred and seventeen men will soon enter the Sistine Chapel and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the College of Cardinals will elect the 266th Pope.

On day one, 117 men will be flawed (not impeccable but capable of sin) and fallible (liable to err). On the day of election and assent by the chosen Cardinal, 117 men will remain flawed and fallible except for one huge proviso. The new Pope, because of his office, is now infallible on matters of morals and faith (as is the body of bishops as a whole when in doctrinal unity with the Pope). I find this fascinating, I accept it on faith but can understand the misunderstanding, disbelief and even hostility by those outside the Church on this doctrine.

During the moment when the new Pope says yes, when he agrees to be the successor to St. Peter and becomes the Vicar of Christ, I would love to be perched somewhere in the Chapel with 3-D Divine glasses. I’m betting that the room will be packed with joyful observers who aren’t wearing red birettas.

But an aside before I continue. I love writing about all things Catholic but as a layman, my knowledge is not what it should be. So I’ve decided to enter a Masters of Theology program once I get the logistics worked out. The last thing I would ever want is to be incorrect on doctrine. So if any of the following is ham-fisted, please forgive me. And correct me as well!

Apologetics requires a steady head when maneuvering in a minefield of criticism. I can safely state this because I think I failed miserably in defending my Catholic faith on one particular night. A conversation was triggered by the concept of the pope’s infallibility. The arguer was incredulous that a man could be so-called infallible. When I mentioned that he was incorrectly characterizing the doctrine and that the Church’s teaching on infallibility was narrowly defined to morals and faith, I couldn’t specifically articulate said infallibility in practice over the last two millennia.

Many folks often confuse infallibility with impeccability. The pope can sin, he is not impeccable. He can also be in error as to his private theological opinions. Nevertheless, as to solemn, official teachings on faith and morals, the pope is considered infallible as the Holy Spirit guides him.

As it happens, “there have been three instances of an officially declared Papal Infallible doctrine. The first was in 1854, when Pope Pius IX declared the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (the blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in St. Anne’s womb free from original sin), then in 1870 at the first Vatican Council when the doctrine of Papal Infallibility was officially declared to be true, and then in 1950 by Pope Pius XII when he declared the doctrine of the Assumption (the blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven).”

That’s it. Just three times. So it’s not likely to come into play during the next Pope’s reign. Nonetheless, what a tool for the pastoral toolbox!

Apparently, critics of the Church and infallibility cite three cases of error by the pope, “those of Popes Liberius, Vigilius, and Honorius, the three cases to which all opponents of papal infallibility turn; because they are the only cases that don’t collapse as soon as they are mentioned.” However, when one reviews the requirements of papal infallibility as outlined by Vatican I, these three cases fall flat. Papal fallibility is not demonstrated. This fact is quite remarkable in light of the Church’s existence and papal authority over the last two thousand years.

Pope Liberius signed a creed, which endorsed a heretical view of Christ. “Liberius only signed the creed after two years of harassment, exile and coercion. The signing did not come from his own free will, and for this reason papal infallibility is not an issue.” As for Vigilius, he was also forced to sign questionable documents of faith under duress. This certainly doesn’t disprove infallibility, as “infallibility only applies to free acts of the pope and not to acts under torture.”

Lastly, Honorius is probably the poster pope for critics of infallibility, however the facts are what they are, and don’t support the contrarian view. “Pope Honorius was deceived” prior to a response in writing on the subject of Jesus’ divine and human will “and then misrepresented. Furthermore, the Third Council of Constantinople condemned him for inaction, but not for teaching heresy. In any event, his letter was private. Thus, the issue of infallibility never even entered the picture.

By the way, if papal infallibility really was just a human invention, don’t you think that the list of errors after twenty centuries would fill at least one book? And yet, we are presented with only three examples, three examples that are not even plausible. Intuitively, does this not speak in favor of the Church’s position?”

I’ve stated this before. One of my criticisms of people who are trigger loaded to discount or deny Catholic teaching such as infallibility, or other topics–either out of hatred or laziness or because they don’t make obvious sense or a slew of other reasons, and I was a leader of this camp–is that they don’t take the time to study the particular issue with patience and an open heart.

Here’s my direct plea. Please. Do the work. Don’t be so eager to pounce. The brainiac explanations behind many of the mysteries is oftentimes breathtaking.

With regard to infallible Popes and inerrant Church teaching, a couple of things come to mind. Christ’s teaching on love and life as well as the example of His life in every conceivable respect should be the touchstone for humanity if it strives to be in union with God. So what happened to these truths when He no longer walked among us? The truth as taught by Jesus Christ has to endure in some way, doesn’t it? It has to be accurate and convey His teachings precisely for all time. Logically, the truth as authoritatively taught by the Magisterium has to be protected over time by some sort of divine mechanism–the Holy Spirit as it where–to be safe from the corrupting influence of man.

“He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16). Additionally, Christ instructed the Church to preach everything He taught (Matt. 28:19–20) and promised the protection of the Holy Spirit to “guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). That mandate and that promise guarantee the Church will never fall away from His teachings (Matt. 16:18, 1 Tim. 3:15), even if individual Catholics might such as the pope or bishops.

“Since Christ said the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church (Matt. 16:18), this means that His Church can never pass out of existence. But if the Church ever apostatized by teaching heresy, then it would cease to exist; because it would cease to be Jesus’ Church. Thus the Church cannot teach heresy, meaning that anything it solemnly defines for the faithful to believe is true.”

Hopefully, sometime before Easter, a man in red shoes will have a few quiet moments to reflect before he walks to the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. His head bowed, he will have just heard Habemus Papam (“We have a Pope”). I pray that he’s not overwhelmed, is truly accepting of his life’s new trajectory and is a confident servant in love with the Lord and His Church.