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.