As Steve Ray received his first Holy Communion, tears streamed down his face. I know because I was a Eucharistic minister, facing the congregation, at the Mass at Christ the King in Ann Arbor when he and his family were received into the Catholic Church. I remember thinking, “Now there’s a convert!” (Read more about Steve Ray’s Conversion story.)
Steve Ray was raised as an evangelical protestant and came to the Catholic Faith through reason and study of the historical Church. Deacon Dennis Walters has a rich background in Scripture and theological study and numerous years of ministry experience including directing RCIA programs. Together they have written a book, The Papacy: What the Pope Does and Why It Matters. It just might answer every question you have about the pope.
What is particularly interesting about this book is that it is not written with the assumption that the reader is already a faithful Catholic who understands and accepts papal authority. In an interview with Al Kresta on Ave Maria Radio, Steve described his book as a job description of the pope or an A to Z of the papacy. It is exactly that. All aspects of the papacy are covered, including the Scriptural and historical underpinnings of the Catholic understanding of the pope’s role.
The first chapter starts with the birth of the Church at Pentecost and three different scenarios that could have happened after that earth-shaking display of the power of the Holy Spirit: 1. Everyone could have gone home filled with the Holy Spirit and with enriched personal lives 2. The apostles could have divided the people into groups, each having their own following and interpretation of what happened. Or 3. Peter could have explained to the crowd what had happened and how it related to the death and resurrection of Jesus and urged that everyone be baptized. Those thousands would make up the infant Church, and under Peter’s leadership, the faith would spread all over the world. The third possibility is what happened, Steve explains, and thus Peter’s leadership dates back all the way to the birthday of the Church.
From there we learn how the pope is the defender and teacher of Catholic moral theology, the unifier of the Church. He is a reconciler, an evangelist, leader and teacher. I particularly appreciated the details about how the pope teaches and the differences among such familiar terms as encyclicals, papal bulls, apostolic constitutions and apostolic exhortations. There are also a number of references to infallibility and discussions about when the pope is infallible and when he is not. To be infallible is not be impeccable (unable to sin.) The authors remind us that not everything the pope says or does is infallible.
The reader will also find rich biographical information about a number of our greatest popes, the history of the conclave, and the selection process today. There is also a discussion of the pope as brother and how he is a leader to all religions. The pope is the successor to Peter and not just to the previous pope. I think my favorite chapter is “Ten Common Attacks on the Papacy.” Included are the following accusations: The pope can change doctrine. The fact that popes have said things that are incorrect shows that they are not infallible. The sinfulness of some popes shows that they are not infallible. The authors deftly refute all of these attacks.
Steve Ray, in the aforementioned interview with Al Kresta, said that he remembers his evangelical Protestant father saying, “Why would Catholics let some old man in Rome tell them in America how to live their lives and what to do?” In many ways this book is the answer to that question. Between the lines you can almost hear Steve Ray the convert talking to the Protestant he once was, explaining the legitimacy of the papacy and the evidence of papal authority from the earliest times.
The Papacy is a wonderful resource for a Catholic family to have. It’s easy to read and well-written. The appendices include a chronological list of the popes, a glossary, recommended citations from Scripture and the Catechism, recommended reading, a subject index and a Scripture index. You couldn’t ask for anything more to add to this book’s usefulness.
If you have Protestant friends who are asking questions about the authority of the pope, this book will provide you with every answer you might need. Maybe your teens have never understood how the pope is the successor to Peter. (This book would make great required reading for high-school students.) Or maybe you yourself would like to be better informed about the church’s teaching on the papacy.
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Copyright 2019 Rosemary Bogdan