Just a quick queston. In all sincerity, how can one accept The Pope (pick one, any one)as the one human being on earth directly connected to God's ear? A Pope is just a human as we all are. Just because one individual can execute, exhibit and demonstrate the discipline that he has been groomed for all of his life doesn't make him more holy than (theoretically) my next door neighbor who might have more faith than he?
Camille in Philly
Continuing my little series to build bridges, I welcome comments like this one in the box. This one actually appeared a while ago but I hadn't gotten to it yet. Thank you Camille for the question. I'll do my best to answer.
The Pope is not the only man on earth directly connected to God's ear. That is actually a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Pope. When you or I pray God hears us the same as he hears the Pope. Nor have many Popes shown the ability to execute, exhibit, or demonstrate the discipline necessary to be Pope. The same is the case about being "groomed" for it all their lives. Several Popes were chosen (and forced) while hiding in their monasteries with no desire to hold the office.
So what is the Pope? I'll whittle it down to the simplest ideas as possible. The Pope is both Guardian and Shepherd. As Guardian of the faith he, at certain times, is protected by the Holy Spirit from error. That doesn't mean he can create pieces of the dogma at his very whim or through a private revelation. It means that when an essential part of the faith is challenged the Holy Spirit prevents the Holy Father from making an error.
As the supreme pastor, the Pope guides the Church of Christ until his return. But the Pope is not the head of the Church. As the Vicar, he is only "the guy left in charge" for better or worse until Christ's return. He essentially is the glue that holds the flock together.
There are very specific areas of things a Pope can define infallibly. Essentially its in two places only: the Faith and Morals.
For the morals side of the equation here is an example. If the Pope comes out and says he is against the War in Iraq (which JPII did) that does not mean all Catholics are obliged under penalty of sin or excommunication to also be against it. He can even write an encyclical (letter to the world) condemning it. Perhaps we should give a little extra weight to the arguments but we are not bound to them.
However as we see in Acts of the Apostles St. Peter defined it was now ok to eat pork. That teaching was infallible and the faithful are obliged to give assent to it. They could still not eat pork if they felt uncomfortable but they had to, in principle, believe it was no longer sinful for men to do so.
I recently heard someone say that the Pope and the Church were like a string you attach to your house. As you walk about during the day you carry the string with you so that if you get lost a way is provided for you to find the sure way home. For some people the string becomes a pain so they drop it and lose their way.
I hope that explains it ok. I am not a professional apologist but they have some of them here if you want to dive in deeper. There are obviously people who disagree and I respect their positions though I no longer hold them. The purpose of this is only to build bridges of understanding. My next installment will be a little different but I'm looking forward to it.