This Sunday at Mass we heard a deep teaching of Jesus about forgiveness; Mt 18: 21-35. But look at how it all starts: “Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
This is a great question! Sure, some sophisticated know-it-alls may choose to dismiss Peter’s question and demean him, but to me this was a real and legitimate question to pose to the Lord. And of course, the answer was even better, much better!!
So today, Peter’s successor the Pope, and the Bishops as well, ask God many questions and listen attentively for His wonderful guiding responses. And the laity of course prays for our Pope and Bishops, to support them in their prayers and listening before God.
A few years ago I was quite surprised when I re-read the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, issued by Vatican Council II. There was a reference that appeared several times which was at once surprising but very profound and beautiful:
“Guiding the Church in the way of all truth (cf. Jn 16:13) and unifying her in communion and in the works of ministry, he bestows upon her varied hierarchic and charismatic gifts, and in this way directs her; and he adorns her with his fruits (cf. Eph 4:11-12; I Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22).” LG #4 Hierarchic gifts – given to the apostles and their successors for the good of the Church!
Which brings us back to Peter. It is critical to ask God the right questions, to persevere in prayer seeking the truth. Our Popes and Bishops do this. (No they haven’t been perfect – just human, but generally with wonderful results.) A great testimony to this reality of the Church’s life is the solid defense given by the Church on behalf of unborn children.
From the 1st century A.D., when the Didache states: “You shall not put a child to death by abortion nor kill it once it is born…”, to Vatican II (Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, #51), to The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae, written by John Paul II), the Church has been guided by the Holy Spirit to teach soundly on respect for human life, right from the moment of conception.
But this guidance came through prayer, asking God the right questions, like Peter did 2,000 years ago, and like Benedict XVI and his fellow Bishops do today. Last Advent, 2010, Pope Benedict introduced a profound new tradition on the eve of the first Sunday of Advent; he celebrated a Vigil for the Unborn, linking it to Advent when we contemplate Christ in the womb, about to born. Surely this too was the fruit of prayer, of seeking God’s inspiration and guidance. Thanks be to God!