Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Why Anglicans should pray for the conclave

Certainly, Anglicans who are already in communion with the Holy See will have an apparent obligation to pray for for the conclave gathering this week to elect the next pope. But for those Anglicans in (and not quite in) the official Anglican Communion, the obligation to may not be so obvious. "But he won't be my pope. So what?" you might think. So I bid your prayers for the election of the next Roman Pontiff, and here's why:

1. Intercessory prayer is a duty of Christian charity. We are obligated to uphold one another in prayer. St. Paul told the Galatians to "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:2). Notice that he calls it a "law of Christ." The immediate context is the burden of penance, but prayer is one way of sharing burdens and it's not just about kindness, but about obeying a commandment of Christ.

When a Christian brother or sister asks for your prayers, you pray for them. It's that simple. The cardinals of the Roman Church have asked for prayers for their discernment. Journalist Robert Moynihan tells the story of an encounter with a cardinal elector yesterday in which the prelate said to him, “It is a dangerous time. Pray for us.” If he was speaking to you, would you dare respond, "But I'm not a Catholic"? When a brother or sister asks you to pray, you pray.

And that request for prayer is not without reason. Surely on occasions like this, where a group of people (each with his own weaknesses and faults) is trying to listen to God and discern a common spiritual direction, occasions like this are the devil's playground. It is like the tempter meeting Christ in the desert. Listening for God is hard, and the devil likes to get his own whispers in--just to sew confusion and doubt. We need the faithful to fast and pray for spiritual protection and discernment.

2. The pope of Rome is the most visible and influential Christian in the world. In our day and age more than ever, it matters who the pope is. Most people, including nonChristian and nonreligious people, have a pretty good idea of who the pope is and what he has to say about x, y, and z. Can that be said of any other Christian leader? I don't even know who to list in comparison. You might have one person, like Billy Graham, who would be familiar to a group of people in a particular time and place, but cross the border into the next country and they've never heard of him.

Can the typical man on the street in Anytown USA name who the Patriarch of Moscow is? the Archbishop of Canterbury? the President of the Southern Baptist Convention? the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America? and so on, and so on? And if they did, could they describe a single thing that person has said or is known for? I doubt it. Like it or not, for good or for ill, when it comes to the secular world, the pope is speaking for every believer. And when it comes to the secular world, he's the one they look to for a word from Christ and his church. We need a good spokesman.

3. What Rome does affects every Christian. That's especially true in the day and age where communication keeps getting faster and the world keeps getting "smaller." I can't remember who it was who came up with the expression, but it was dead-on: "When Rome sneezes, Christendom gets a cold." The Roman Catholic Church (and the churches in communion with her) is by far the largest Christian community in the world--larger than every other kind of Christian put together. That carries weight and influence.

The ecumenical movement never really got going until Rome got involved. Biblical scholarship never really trickled down to the common man till Rome encouraged the laity to study the bible. The liturgical movement didn't really get going until Rome started to change her liturgy. (And folk masses didn't catch on till the Romans caught on.) Which is to say that the most influential leader of the biggest church in the world is an important job and we need to pray for the choice of a new pope.

4. The Bishop of Rome is our own patriarch and the visible center of Christian unity. Most of us Anglicans either don't realize this or fail to appreciate it, but it is true nonetheless. Whether we are in communion with him or not, the fact remains that the Bishop of Rome is our own patriarch and the visible center of Christian unity. The bishops of the ancient church looked to their local provincial metropolitan for leadership and pastoral guidance, who in turn looked to the patriarchal sees. All but one of these were in the eastern half of the empire but one--Rome.

So it turned out that all of the western church looked to the patriarch in Rome for leadership. And the Patriarch of Rome also happened to be the bishop who exercised a primacy of honor among the episcopate, just as Peter was the prince of the apostles, the rock on which the church was built, and given a special command by Christ to tend the flock of God and to strengthen his brethren (see John 21:15-19 and Luke 22:31-32).

I know that Pope Benedict XVI decided to forgo the title "Patriarch of the West," but the role remains a part of the papacy's history. And Anglican ecumenical dialogue has recongnized the importance of the role of the papacy, just as the Second Vatican Council said that among churches separated at the Reformation who continue to bear catholic traits, Anglicanism occupies "a special place." It is a part of our spiritual heritage.

Five popes (Fabian, Gregory the Great, John XXIII, Peter, and Leo the Great) are commemorated in Holy Women, Holy Men/Lesser Feasts and Fasts. In the ARCIC II document Gift of Authority, the closing paragraphs call for the re-reception of a universal primacy of the pope among Anglicans as a gift to be shared by fellow Christians. It called upon the pope to strengthen the bonds between separated Christians and for Anglicans to begin to live under that authority even before visible communion can be realized.

("Anglicans and Roman Catholics are already facing these issues but their resolution may well take some time. However, there is no turning back in our journey towards full ecclesial communion. . . . The Commission's work has resulted in sufficient agreement on universal primacy as a gift to be shared, for us to propose that such a primacy could be offered and received even before our churches are in full communion." The Gift of Authority, paragraphs 58, 60)

It matters who the pope is because he does not just belong to Roman Catholics, but to all Christians and to the whole world. May God raise up a true builder of bridges for the Universal Church.
We humbly beseech thee, O Lord: that of thy unbounded mercy thou wouldst grant unto the holy Roman Church a Pontiff; who by his tender care towards us may ever find favour in thy sight, and, studying to preserve thy people in safety, may ever be honored by us to the glory of thy Name. Through Jesus Christ our Lord ... (English/Anglican Missal--Mass for the Election of a Chief Bishop)