we pray for the pope
some difficulties answered
Fr. Nicholas Mary
March 2002 issue of Catholic magazine
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."
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
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." How much more should we
love the pope, who can hardly be said to hate, persecute and
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." 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
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.
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:
- The exaltation of the Church
- The propagation of the Faith
- The extirpation of heresy
- The conversion of sinners
- Concord between Christian princes
- 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
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.
"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.
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
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
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." 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.