The next man to wear the fisherman’s ring

There was a story once told about Pope Pius X who was the son of simple, hard working parents in a little Italian village. Each pope when elected is given a fisherman’s ring to wear, which is inscribed with a figure of St. Peter fishing from a boat, to signify the office as successor to St. Peter who was the first pope of the Catholic Church. After his election, Pope Pius X returned to visit his parents. When he showed his mother his fisherman’s ring, she smiled and said, “Yes, son, it is very beautiful, but you wouldn’t be wearing that ring if it wasn’t for this wedding ring on my finger.”

Now with great sadness, Pope Benedict XVI has handed over to the College of Cardinals, his fisherman’s ring that was placed on St. Peter’s tomb before he began wearing it eight years ago. He will now go back to wearing an episcopal ring he once wore as a cardinal. And with the breaking of the ring has come the end of his papal authority as successor to St. Peter to bind and to loose, the authority given by Jesus to Peter and his successors. It will be the first time the papal ring has been broken in this way, with its wearer still living, in some 600 years. No longer “Peter, the Bishop of Rome and the head of the Universal Church of Christ,” he will still be addressed as “Your Holiness” and be given the title “Pope Emeritus” or “Roman Pontiff Emeritus,” continuing to wear a much simpler white cassock.

Shortly, the College of Cardinals who are called the princes of the church, the direct and closest advisers to the pope, will enter the conclave. Behind locked doors in the Sistine chapel, they will elect a new pope, and thus another ring will be forged inscribed with a figure of St. Peter fishing from a boat bearing the name he will assume as the 265th successor of St. Peter, becoming the 266th pope.

Before leaving office Benedict XVI ordered the restoration of the public “act of obedience” in which each cardinal present at the new pope’s inaugural Mass will offer his allegiance. Each cardinal also wears a ring given him when made a cardinal. They wear red to remind them that they must be always willing to die for Christ and his church..

In a recent meeting I had with Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signature, he stipulated that, “the most rewarding part of his office was to be able to offer very direct assistance to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, the Shepherd of the Universal Church. The satisfaction coming from trying to lift a bit of his burden, because if the Holy Father had to carry all these things on his shoulders alone, it would crush him, but in the wisdom of the church, he has the College of Cardinals to assist him.”

I found Cardinal Burke to be a very humble man, saying that, “if he can offer his help to Christ’s Vicar on earth he is always ready and happy to do so.” If not elected Benedict’s successor himself in the upcoming conclave, he will gladly give his public act of obedience to the future pope, a cardinal who truly loves and lives his office.

As Catholics, we must pray for the College of Cardinals that they elect a pope who is both physically and spiritually capable of governing the Bark of Peter. The Lord will place on the shoulders of our new pontiff an unbelievably heavy burden and so we also must pray for the College of Cardinals that like Cardinal Burke they too may be faithful to their office; to what their ring signifies so as to help lift some of that burden.

Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ, there is one ring that is above all other rings; above the rings of the cardinals and the episcopal rings of the bishops and that’s the Fisherman’s Ring, and they must always remember their rings have no meaning unless united to the ring (the office) of the Fisherman.

As we look forward to hearing the words, “Habemus Papam — we have a pope,” let us faithful Catholics continue to pledge our love, loyalty and support to the Office of Peter the Fisherman.

Father Ronan Murphy is a priest of the Diocese of Camden.

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