Pope & Prophets—-Filling the Shoes of a Fisherman


March 7, 2013 by Ron Madson

POPES  & PROPHETS—-Filling the Shoes of a Fisherman?

                              “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have I give you“–Peter   

            Having more zeal than knowledge—correct that—having lots of zeal and practically no knowledge in the Spring of 1975, I and my missionary companion brazenly walked into the St. Jean Cathedral in Lyon France seeking (demanding) audience with the Archbishop of France.   

            St. Jeans Cathedral’s construction began in the twelfth century on the ruins of the 6th Century church and was completed in 1476.   In 1079 the Pope granted to the Archbishop of Lyon the title of  “Primate of All the Gauls.”    Seeing myself as a modern day Son of Mosiah, I was determined to take my message of the true gospel to the presiding church leader of all France.  


       My companion and I were introduced to a very friendly Priest who identified himself as the Assistant to the Archbishop of France.  He said that the Archbishop was away but he would gladly speak with us.  We entered his office and before we could exchange the normal civilities, I launched into a condensed version of the first, second and third missionary lesson—ending with the account of the restoration of the Priesthood by Peter, James and John. I declared that I and my companion held that Priesthood that was properly and legally conferred by ordination to us without interruption.  I told him that we were in France to invite him, the Archbishop, and all of France to repent, recognize our priesthood and be baptized into the true church—for, and I said “that priesthood you think you have had been lost through apostasy.”    His response was incredibly annoying.  He didn’t contend at all. He smiled and began to tell us of his visit to Temple Square in Salt Lake City, was awed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and how he and the Archbishop both had such a wonderful respect and love for Mormons.

            The Priest then took us on a tour of the Cathedral.   We entered a three story high hall where there was a large two story long tapestry that at the top had Saint Peter who then ordained Bishop Linus who then ordained Bishop so and so down to the present Archbishop of Lyon.   He had faith that his church had the Priesthood and it could not be lost from the earth until the Savior returned.

            Thirty-eight years have passed since I had that experience and I have hopefully gathered a little more knowledge and a little more charity for other faiths and their traditions.  In a month we are having a France-Switzerland Mission Reunion—haven’t had one for many years.   I have been reading my missionary journal.   It has been so long that my embarrassment as to some things I wrote has been replaced by amusement —as if I am reading about someone else.   Sprinkled throughout my journal are comments as to the “great and abominable” church of the devil; the silliness and ignorance of Catholicism on such and such an issue.   But in all fairness, there are also many references to the many true disciples of Jesus of Nazareth in the Catholic fold I met during my mission as evidenced by the virtue and goodness reflected in their lives—the elderly rich lady that spent all her time and energy with the poor, tithing her wealth directly to them because of her faith in Christ; the seminary student that decided to consecrate his life to the priesthood in his church; the selfless nuns and many who sincerely expressed love of their faith and church despite its flaws past and present.

            After my mission I finally began to pay the price to have a little knowledge as to the history of the Catholic faith.  Sure I read of the inquisitions, the crusades, the scandals, and the many evil acts of some during the last two millennia.  But what is new under the sun?  While we can read of all the past and even present abuses of those who have and may still sit in the chief seats of pretty much any religion, who are more interested in retaining power than filling the shoes of the original fishermen chosen by Jesus, we can also read of the true disciples of Christ on the front lines such as the Jesuit priests that sacrificed their lives in this New World to share with the natives their Christian beliefs (as depicted in the movie “The Mission” with Jeremy Irons & Robert DeNiro) and the millions of Mother Theresa types that have given their all to their faith in Christ.   Time, reading, and experience has tempered my judgmental zeal as to the faithful adherents of other faiths as it should for all of us.

            As I write this post a new Pope is being chosen to guide and direct what hundreds of millions of Catholics believe is the Lord’s church here on earth.  They believe that this new Pope will be chosen in these very troubling times not only for the Catholic faith community but all humanity.   In a Stake conference one of our Priesthood leaders said: “As Latter-day Saints we don’t have to worry about what color of smoke comes out of the chimney when God chooses a prophets.”  That is an accurate statement—we don’t “worry” or spiritually labor over such a decision.  But the Catholic faith adherents do worry—a great deal.   In fact they worry so much that they create a “Conclave” where they sequester their Cardinals who then strive through prayer, fasting and meditation to know God’s will through divine revelation as to God’s choice to direct their Church of 1.2 billion members.  Will God reveal His will to them?   I don’t know for that is God’s call and not mine.  The point of asking for current revelation is that just maybe He might inspire the Conclave to break with all traditions, internal politics and past patterns and choose someone, even if done unwittingly, that would humbly and courageously remedy some of their present day institutional and church challenges beginning with a full confession of past sins– even if the price demands abandoning the false pretense of inerrancy; maybe chose someone who would actually have the gifts of the spirit as Peter did and fill his shoes by returning to a Sermon on the Mount ministry of simplicity and gifts of the spirit; maybe chose someone who would perform a latter day miracle by adopting a “fish and loaves” model that requires the selling of the churches massive wealth and distributing ALL of it to the poor. (See “Shoes of Fisherman with Anthony Quinn/ 1968).    If so we would be understandably in awe. For God has been known to accomplish His purposes from time to time in the most unexpected ways. What I do believe from what I have learned from Joseph Smith’s example, and from personal experience is that God is no respecter of persons, and when anyone sincerely seeks to know His will that there is a chance that God will speak to them.  God seems to like us to inquire more rather than less and He can even speak to us when we have strayed for a very, very long time.  So again could God speak to this Conclave?  Sure. However, historically God has chosen, perhaps of necessity, his prophets and messengers from the wilderness (John Baptist) the outcast (Jeremiah) the rejected (Lehi), children (Joseph Smith and Samuel of the OT), the poor and unconnected (Amos) and even aliens to one’s culture (Samuel the Lamanite), and of course the Messiah Himself was not chosen from among the duly ordained and recognized Priesthood of His day. https://themormonworker.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/where-is-jeremiah-today/  So that begs the question: Why are real prophets and those chosen by God himself almost always called from outside a church hierarchy?  Is it because any organization with structured hierarchy breeds ‘managers and not leaders” who then predictably seek to preserve the proper order of things that involves retention of authority, power and even church corporate holdings?    But for the sake of the true believers in your faith I would like to think that God could do a new thing, even as I would like to think He could speak to anyone of us at anytime despite our individual and collective errors past and present.   

            Here is what I do believe:  God’s love extends to all humanity.  That He wants to communicate with all mankind.  I also believe that one major impediment to further revelation is for any faith to arrogantly believe that they have all the answers and that God approves of them so much so that they are in a position to judge derisively the faith errors of others around us—-think Zoramites.   There was a time when I would have joked about the “color of the smoke” used when choosing a new Pope or snidely remarked how “they” are simply voting rather than getting direct revelation as to who should lead the church (but we are only 19 once), but then I realized that others not of our faith could and have said:  “Those Mormons when their President dies simply go with the next oldest guy—so they do not even have to disturb God to see if He has any thoughts on the matter.”  I would hope that in time we could all recognize that we are all praying that God continues to reveal His word to us and that such mocking of other faiths may reflect more negatively upon ourselves than those we condemn as not having access to revelation—as if we could tell God who He can or can not speak to in these latter-days.  

            To my Catholic friends, many of us share your anticipation in having a New Pope to guide your church.   In our Mormon faith we believe that we should be constantly seeking God’s voice in all of our decisions in that just because He spoke to us in the past or at the origins of our faith it does not follow He is speaking to us now or will in the future if we arrogantly assume we have the answers; create pharisaical rules of exclusion of the least among us; replace His Sermon on the Mount “fish and loaves model” with a for profit corporate charter; and then refuse to confess and/or cover up our past sins while promoting misleading fables about ourselves.  For, like you, we know that God’s imprimatur of any church is not found in historical narratives, legalistic pedigrees, membership numbers, or even financial portfolios, but in contemporary gifts of the spirit and direct revelation.  Seeking to know today what God wants us to do today rather than follow a past formula is an act of faith.  We pray as you do that God will find it in His will and mercy to communicate His not only to your church leaders but each of you personally.  For I believe that a church, any church, is not the Kingdom of God but only a means to prepare a people as best as it can to be part of His final Kingdom.   For in that final Kingdom of God there will be those gathered from all people, “north, south, west” and even the isles of the seas, and even from those who have no identifiable church—“for more are the children of the desolate than the married wife.”   And we pray that we can be meek enough to inherit with many of you that final Kingdom. 





19 thoughts on “Pope & Prophets—-Filling the Shoes of a Fisherman

  1. If this next pope isn’t ordained until April, he’ll be elected on a Sabbath year. Quite fitting I think.

  2. Scott Mitchell says:


    Excellent, well-thought-out essay, Ron. Inspired, too, I think.

    • Ron Madson says:

      Scott thanks for stopping by. Didn’t you also serve a mission in France as I recall? Still a BYU football fan?

  3. Tariq Khan says:

    Your posts always leave me feeling enlightened, Ron. I loved your missionary story. Zeal without knowledge, sure, but I’ve got to admire your boldness, however misdirected it may have been.

  4. rockwaterman1 says:

    As always, Ron, you get right to the crux of the matter.

    If I were Elder Holland, I would not be so quick to boast of the method we have settled on in selecting God’s spokesman. Our way is shameful, for it excludes any need to reference God’s will.

    The catholic Cardinals, as you point out, expend much time, thought, prayer, and fasting in seeking God’s will. We Mormons don’t think it’s worth the bother, nor do we even seek revelation about it. Our method was settled on decades ago not by an appeal to God, but by inserting a clause in the charter created for no other reason to guarantee financial control would pass to the next oldest guy.

    That is part and parcel of succession in this Church, and the sole reason for selecting that method. It was all about protecting the money, property, and investments, and though I’ll grant that should be one concern among many at any changing of the guard, it should not have superseded the need to seek revelation to know God’s will.

    We don’t have to “worry” about prayer, fasting, debate, or revelation because we don’t engage in any of that when the baton is passed from one president to the next. (It is telling that the charter nowhere refers to a “prophet”, but to the corporate office of “president.”) We simply consult the rules that were set up decades ago. God was left out of the process then; why should we ever bother to include him at this late stage?

    Rather than mock the Catholics for their method of selection, we ought to try emulating them.

    • vikingz2000 says:


      Don’t you know that God knows the end from the beginning?

      Don’t you know that as an Omniscient Being, knowing who should be the next LDS Prophet at the death of the current Prophet of His and His Son’s one and only true church at any particular time in the future, is like ‘chump change’ in the vaults of foreknowledge?

      Don’t you know Mormons need not worry after all! And “prayer, fasting, debate, or revelation,” well, that’s okay for all of those other churches who aren’t led by *the* God of the one and only true church.

      Don’t you know that, “When the Prophet speaks, … the debate is over” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 108), and the process for succession with regard to the next Prophet was established by Prophets?!

      Don’t you know that in Mormonism there is a rational explanation for everything?
      It’s called ‘the truth.’
      It’s called “All is well in Zion!”, not the Vatican.

      • rockwaterman1 says:

        It’s hard to tell if you were being facetious, Vikingz2000, since there are indeed plenty of members of the church who embrace the false teachings you present above. But I’m going to go ahead and presume you meant what you wrote to be taken as satire.

        There is, of course, no doctrinal basis for the ensign’s assertion that “When the prophet speaks, the debate is over.” Heber J. Grant specifically refuted that very teaching when it first appeared during his presidency 1945. But of course, you knew that.

        Thanks for the chuckle.

  5. Tariq Khan says:

    I do doubt, however, that these child-molester ignoring cardinals are any more spiritually in tune than LDS authorities are.

    • rockwaterman1 says:

      Agreed. I’m referring, of course, to the process of discussion, debate, fasting and prayer. Whether these Cardinals have the ability to receive accurate information from heaven is a separate discussion.

      What I’m talking about is that, rather than docilely stand by and assume the next guy in line automatically possesses the gifts of prophet, seer, and revelator, we should collectively and individually call upon God for his input, then assemble and compare notes and see if we can come to a unified conclusion as to God’s will.

      • vikingz2000 says:

        But one thing we can be thankful for (we=TBMs) is that at conference when they announce/sustain the new Prophet, it isn’t done by some dude who has his hand clasped together at his mid-chest, his head cocked to one side and his eyes cast upward toward heaven. I’m referring to what was televised as everyone was being dismissed by the dude at the front podium for the locked in seclusion cum clave sessions.

        But ‘our’ chairs are better than their chairs! Our red chairs are bigger, cushier, and made of mohair (or so I was told)!!

  6. I found out the Papal Conclave started on the first day of the Jewish ecclesiastical new year (Nisan 1). A rather interesting coincidence.

  7. Ron Madson says:

    The Argentinian Pope is an advocate for the poor. Contrast that with the jaw dropping wealth manifested in the Vatican edifices. But who knows but what God moves in a mysterious way and he decides to sell all the massive wealth of the church and return it to the poor and the least–“fishes and loaves model.” Miracles can happen. Never know. And suddenly God breathes life back into their priesthood. You never, ever know. God is quirky like that. He seems to get really silent when churches build edifices to their vanity and hoard wealth.

  8. […] Popes & Prophets — Filling the Shoes of a Fisherman (Ron Madson, The Mormon Worker) […]

  9. Amen, Ron, that is the best religious perspective that I have read in a long time.

    Coincidentally our my wife, my twin 16 year old daughters, and I watched the Anthony Quinn film together a couple of months ago. It was a very inspiring vision of what could happen if someone with humility and vision were to live with complete integrity. In the movie a soviet leader seeing the collision course to world annihilation remembers the integrity of an imprisoned catholic priest that he interrogated many years ago. He liberates him and sends him to Rome. There he is made a cardinal, and not long after that the pope dies. To make a long story short, this former prisoner becomes the new pope, someone who sees what needs to be done, and does it! … not a realistic view of what to expect, but a mind opening view of the degree of surprise that we will experience when we see the actual form assumed by “marvelous work and a wonder.”

    In 1972 towards the end of my mission in Argentina, my companion and I were invited to a meeting of catholic priests who were talking about something called “liberation Theology.” We dismissed it as just another man-made substitute for the true gospel. I wish that I had taken it more seriously at the time. I do now, and regret that i was not there to help it build steam, instead of being marginalized.

  10. It is interesting to me that both the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the film, “In the Shoes of the Fisherman,” give the good guy roles to the official enemies of the establishment. In the late sixties it was the Russians.

  11. Section 10 of the D&C gives a different picture than we are used to of the Lord’s attitude towards the various churches that were already in existence in the spring of 1829 at the time of the setback from the loss of the 116 page translated manuscript, just before the start of the translation of what we now have of the Book of Mormon, an entire year before the organization of the Church of Jesus-Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

    52 And now, behold, according to their faith in their prayers [i.e. the prayers of Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Alma, Mormon, Moroni, etc.] will I bring this part of my gospel [The Book of Mormon] to the knowledge of my people. Behold, I do not bring it to destroy that which they have received, but to build it up. [Italics added]

    [i.e. not destroy what the existing churches have accomplished on the basis of the Bible and their traditions, but to build upon what they already have]

    53 And for this cause have I said: If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them.

    The surrounding verses show that in this context “establish” does not imply from scratch any more than “create” implies ex nihilo.

    54 Now I do not say this to destroy my church, but I say this to build up my church;
    Notice that twice in one short sentence the Lord calls the remnant of His church that still exists in 1829 before the restoration, “my church.”

    55 Therefore, whosoever belongeth to my church need not fear, for such shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.

    Again the Lord seems to think that there are still people in 1829 who belong to His church.
    Then He makes clear exactly who it is that He does not claim as His own:

    56 But it is they who do not fear me, neither keep my commandments but build up churches unto themselves to get gain, yea, and all those that do wickedly and build up the kingdom of the devil—yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, that it is they that I will disturb, and cause to tremble and shake to the center.

    Among other things He goes on to say that the purpose of the Book of Mormon is to put down religious contentions, and then …

    67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.

    [The Lord’s church cuts across denominations.]

    68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.

    Is this a warning to be careful about putting fealty to any particular denomination above loyalty to the Lord?

    This section of the D&C is consistent with the Lord’s declaration to Nephi that there are “two churches only:” His and the devil’s. And they both cut across all denominations. When the presiding brethren pointed this truth out to Bruce R. McConkie, he retracted from his popular book, “Mormon Doctrine,” his previous opinion that the “Great and Abominable Church of the Devil” referred to the Catholic Church.

    • That’s a very insightful reading. Too often we get caught up in confusing “The Church” with Christ’s church. There is, perhaps, a role for the institution, but Christ’s church is made up of “whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me”, regardless of denomination, as mentioned in the section of D&C you cited above…

      Thanks for that reading. I’ve always focused on verse 67, but you’ve put much more context around it and gave it an even greater splendor.

  12. Grant Bakewell, Jr. says:

    How would you (and/or a person in authority for the LDS Church) interpret the sayings cited above in light of the ongoing Christian ecumenical movement(s), today represented by the Church World Service, the World Council of Churches, or the Fellowship of Reconciliation (ecumenical Christian and interfaith, faith-based nonviolence)? If Christ’s “one true church” cuts across all possible denominations, what standard, other than the canonical New Testament and the witness of the first Christians, could be considered a proper form of discernment for humankind, or for any human being, at least until the fullness of Christ comes at the end of time?

  13. […] on the back too much, but three years ago before this Pope was chosen to lead the Catholic church, I speculated that if the Catholic church relied on the unmanageable pursuit of revelation through prayer and […]

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