The See of Peter is vacant, and as a result, like so many others all over the world, I feel a little bereft as I write this. Yesterday, as in so many other parishes, we did our best to mark the end of Benedict XVI’s reign and ministry as Supreme Pastor. The children in our primary school, many of whom were not born when he was elected, had a celebration; and there was, in the evening, Vespers, Benediction and Te Deum, followed by food and drink. It was nice to be able to say goodbye to a Pope while he was still alive – a novel event – rather than to mark his death and burial; but all the time I was aware of those pictures on the television, of the helicopter flying past the dome of St Peter’s taking the Pope away from us all. It felt like a bereavement, and it felt that way because it was a bereavement.
I was born in the early months of Pope Paul VI’s reign, and so I have seen four Popes, and await my fifth. I have had a deep personal attachment to all four, even though I never met any of them in the flesh, and I only ever saw John Paul II from an immense distance. But, the Pope is our father, and we love him; he belongs to us, we are part of the same family of faith. These four pontiffs have had a great formative influence on me, and I do not think that someone who is not a Catholic can really understand this. Andrew Brown, who writes for the Guardian, always writes well, and he has great insight into religious matters, but he stands outside the family of faith, and as a result, he does not get why this Pope, indeed any Pope, matters to us so intensely. The Church is not an organisation like the United Nations or the European Union or the Liberal Democrat Party. It is the Mystical Body of Christ. To be Catholic is to experience the joy, peace and love that belonging to the Mystical Body brings; it is to be in communion with the Pope, which is the visible sign of that Mystical unity. And that in the end is why I cannot really express to anyone just how intensely I loved Benedict XVI, John Paul II, John Paul I, and Paul VI, or how intensely I will love the Pope who is to be elected shortly.
This is the mystery of the Mystical Body. Those outside the Church need to deal with it. It is the way we are. And it is the reason why when people make snarky comments on Twitter about the Pope, any Pope, they do not really insult the Successor of the Apostles, they insult me.
How happy I am that, wherever I have been in the world, I have been with people who profess the Catholic Faith, people who follow Christ and follow Peter. Ubi Petrus, ibi Ecclesia, ibi vita eterna. For those who need a translation: Where Peter is, there is the Church, there is eternal life!