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Pray much
for the
Holy Father
of course,
we pray for the pope
some difficulties answered

Fr. Nicholas Mary

Originally published in the
March 2002 issue of Catholic magazine

Pope John Paul II

Catholics can often find it difficult to pray for the pope after all that has happened during these years of crisis... after all that has been said and done to confuse the faithful and favor the Church's enemies. Here is the Church's answer to this difficulty.

"A Christian who does not pray for the pope is like a child who does not pray for his father." These are the emphatic words of the great Redemptorist Apostle of Vienna, St. Clement Mary Hofbauer. Is Pope John Paul II not in need of prayer, then? If your father were urgently in need of your prayers and you refused them, what kind of a child would you be?

The Catechism if the Council of Trent explains that we honor our father and mother first of all by "the spontaneous offering of sincere and dutiful love." We also owe to our parents, it continues "other duties of respect, such as to supplicate God in their behalf," to submit "to their wishes and inclinations," to imitate "their good example... when we not only ask, but follow their advice" and to "relieve their necessities." Thus "we are bound to honor not only our natural parents, but also others who are called fathers, such as bishops and priests, kings, princes and magistrates, tutors, guardians and masters, teachers, aged persons and the like, all of whom are entitled, some in a greater, some in a lesser degree, to share our love, our obedience, and our assistance."[1]

Clearly we cannot obey the pope when he departs from the path of his predecessors, nor when submission to his "wishes and inclinations" would entail displeasing God. "No authority," wrote Archbishop Lefebvre in his famous Declaration of 1974, "even the very highest in the hierarchy, can constrain its to abandon or to diminish our Catholic Faith, such as it has been clearly expressed and professed by the Churchís magisterium for nineteen centuries." Such lawful disobedience, as we know, does not infringe on the prerogatives of papal infallibility, but we should reflect more on the fact that it does not diminish our obligation to love and assist the pope as much as we are able.

We do this first and foremost, as the same declaration made clear, precisely inasmuch as we hold fast to Tradition, doing so "without any rebellion, bitterness or resentmentÖin the conviction that we can thus do no greater service to the holy Catholic Church, to the Sovereign Pontiff, and to future generations," and so making sure of "remaining faithful to the Catholic and Roman Church [and] to all the successors of St. Peter." But that is only the starting point: the goal is to obtain from Heaven the Popeís conversion through the prayers of the innocent children whom he has seemingly abandoned. To these prayers his due share in our love and assistance entitles him.

Q. But Pope John Paul II has abandoned us as a fatherÖ Why should we pray for him as faithful children?

It is true that the current pope does not yet seem to realize that not only are we not errant sheep, but we are in the very "heart of the Church," in the beautiful words of the Little Flower. We are his truest sons and daughters. But if, like Shakespeareís King Lear, he rejects or abandons us, the reverse cannot be said, and that is why we unite our prayers with those of the priest at Holy Mass as he prays for the Sovereign Pontiff in the Canon; the fact that we pray to God for "our Pope John Paul" [now "our Pope Benedict XVI" - Ed.] shows that we refuse to regard ourselves as being in schism with him, no matter what his attitude to us may be.

In reading the life of Blessed Elizabeth Canori-Mora (1774-1825), an Italian Trinitarian Tertiary who was simultaneously an abused wife, an exemplary mother and a highly-favored mystic, one cannot help being struck by the relevance of her story for our own days. Her example should not only inspire spouses in conjugal difficulties to seek her intercession; rather the example of her fidelity and perseverance are of universal significance, and particularly to faithful Catholics in their stand for Tradition.

After her unworthy husband Christopher had abandoned her and their two young daughters to live in open adultery, Elizabeth continued unceasingly to pray and offer sacrifices for his conversion and that of his partner in sin. She made sure that he realized that he was still the head of their family, and welcome to return at any time to them in the humble lodgings and penury to which his wanton spending had reduced them. When well-meaning friends tried to persuade her to seek a legal separation from him she refused the suggestion energetically, and lived by her example the holy doctrine of the indissolubility of Christian marriage which she inculcated upon others by her counsel. When Christopher sought to divorce her, she would not consent, though in every other regard she tried to obey him as far as her conscience would permit. A portrait of Christopher hung in a prominent position in their apartment, in order to remind her daughters - and herself - that this was his home, and that he had abandoned them and not they him.

Her perseverance in penance and prayer finally obtained the conversion of her husband, and, as she had further prophesied, Christopher went on to become a Franciscan priest after her early death. She was beatified in 1994, the International Year of the Family.

The post-conciliar popes may have largely neglected the true needs of the sole Bride of Christ, the Church, in order to please various other purely human groups and institutions, but the time will come when Pope John Paul II or one of his successors will experience the affliction and regret which marked the conversion of Christopher Canori-Mora, and realize that, as Archbishop Lefebvre used to say, "it has been Satanís masterstroke to introduce disobedience to all Tradition in the name of obedience." That moment of grace, however, must be won through prayer: our prayer. After all, how many "modernists" or "sedevacantists" are praying for him!?

Q. We may pray for his conversion, but how can we love and revere someone who seems to be doing so much harm?

As to the true charity which we should have for the pope, and which should move us to pray for him, Our Lordís own command should suffice us: "But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to them that hate you and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you, that you may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven."[2] How much more should we love the pope, who can hardly be said to hate, persecute and calumniate us!

And as to reverence, we are not speaking of that blind "papolatry" of certain conservatives which ignores the common good, but rather of that respect which is owing to the Pope through his office, and which is independent of the manner in which he exercises it. St. Catherine of Siena, who revered the papacy as the rock upon which Our Lord had built His Church, was at the same time in no way under the modern illusion that infallibility or freedom from error under certain clearly defined conditions, is accompanied by impeccability or freedom from sin! St. Thomas Aquinas, speaking of the virtue of Observance (whereby "we pay... honor to those who excel in some kind of dignity"), points out that even "a wicked superior is honored for the excellence, not of his virtue but of his dignity, as being Godís minister, and because the honor paid to him is paid to the whole community over which he presides."[3] If even a wicked king or ruler is honored as being in some way Godís minister, then how much more should we he careful in the way we speak of the Vicar of Christ, who is surely not wicked, but merely misguided!

A truly wicked ruler, enemy of the Church and persecutor of Catholics was surely the unhappy Queen Elizabeth I of England. And yet St. Edmund Campion spoke for all English Catholics when he told her and her government that:

Many innocent hands are lifted up to heaven for you daily by those English students, whose posterity shall never die, which beyond seas, gathering virtue and sufficient knowledge for the purpose, are determined never to give you over, but either to win you heaven, or to die upon your pikes. And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league - all the Jesuits in the world, whose succession and multitude must overreach all the practice of England - cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us, and never to despair of your recovery, while we have a man left to enjoy your Tyburn, or to be racked with your torments, or consumed with your prisons. The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the faith was planted: So it must be restored. If these my offers be refused, and my endeavors can take no place, and I, having run thousands of miles to do you good, shall be rewarded with rigor, I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almighty God, the Searcher of Hearts, who send us his grace, and see us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten.[4]

If the Catholics of England could pray for their Queen - as they still do - then shall faithful Catholics the world over do less for their common Father? May their "innocent hands" be "lifted up to Heaven daily" until Almighty God deigns to hear their prayer!

Q. I pray for the Holy Father and his conversion, but donít ask me to pray for the intentions of Pope John Paul II! Can it be pleasing to God to pray for the success of some ecumenical meeting, or, for that matter, that the Catholics of Tradition give up their fight?

Your interpretation of what the subjective intentions of this particular pope might be is perhaps correct, but besides the point. When we pray "for the intentions of our Holy Father, the Pope" we are praying for something objective, something determined by the Church and laid down long ago:

  1. The exaltation of the Church
  2. The propagation of the Faith
  3. The extirpation of heresy
  4. The conversion of sinners
  5. Concord between Christian princes
  6. The further welfare of the Christian people

These are the intentions of the Sovereign Pontiff for which we pray as a necessary condition for gaining plenary indulgences.

Q. Pope John Paul II will never change! Our prayers for him are in vain!

Those who reason thus forget that the gates of hell will never prevail against the One, True Church. They forget that there will be an end to this terrible crisis. They forget that it will be a pope - whether the present one or one of his successors, we do not know - who will bring about this change. They forget that no prayer which is according to Godís Holy Will is ever in vain. And they would do well to consider how Archbishop Lefebvre viewed the matter. Shortly after the Council he wrote:

The destruction of the Church is progressing at a rapid pace... The pope has made himself powerless. And yet only the successor of Peter - and he alone - can save the Church.[5]

"We are far from refusing to pray for the pope," he reminded his seminarians a decade later:

on the contrary, we redouble our prayers and petitions that the Holy Ghost might give him light and power in the strengthening and in the defense of the Faith....The Truth must be confirmed in Rome more than in any other place. It belongs to God, who will make it triumph.[6]

And in the momentous year of 1988 [i.e., the year of his consecration of four bishops without the direct permission of the Holy Father - Ed.] he stated categorically that:

Only the pope can bring the Church back to Tradition. Only he has the power, only he has the responsibility, and if he too has sadly allowed himself to be drawn into the errors of Vatican II, then this is nevertheless not a sufficient reason to separate ourselves from him. On the contrary, we must make every effort to bring him to reflect upon the seriousness of the situation, to move him to return to Tradition, and to require of him that he lead the Church back along her path of two thousand years. Perhaps you will answer me along with those who have left us on this account: "Itís useless, you are wasting your time!" They think like that because they have no confidence in God. God can do all things! Humanly speaking they are right, because the situation is discouraging. But God can do all things, and prayer can obtain all things. And that is why we must pray for the pope, pray twice as much for the pope, that God might enlighten him that he might at last open his eyes and see the debacle in the Church...[7]

Fr. Franz Schmidberger [who at the time of this article was the SSPX's Superior General - Ed.] once preached a stirring sermon in which he noted that "when St. Peter was thrown into prison by Herod and bound with chains, the Church prayed without ceasing for him: today Peter is in chains anew; in chains which he has in part forged himself." "It is for us," he concluded, "to beseech God on our knees unceasingly until he sends an angel, as he did before, who will lead Peter forth from his prison."[8] Whether God will send an angel to help the successor of St. Peter out of his predicament or perhaps only to accept the offering of the martyrdom depicted in the terrible vision of the Third Secret of Fatima, our own duty is clearly expressed in these words of Blessed Jacinta to her companions: "Poor Holy Father, we must pray very much for him!"

1 Explanation of the Fourth Commandment.

2 Mt. 5:44-45.

3 "Campionís ĎBragí", viii-ix; see Catholic, September 2001 for full text.

4 Summa Theologica, Ila IIae, Q.103, A.2, rep. obj 2.

5 Letter of November 20, 1966 to Cardinal Ottaviani.

6 Guidelines to Econe seminarians of November 8, 1979

7 Sermon at Econe, April 23, 1988.

8 Sermon (1987), Amt und Person des Simon Petrus (cf. Acts 12:5). © 2013                    home                    contact