At least if you believe in God and His infinite wisdom. Even if you don’t, you probably understand the importance of having a leader.
With the new pope being introduced today, I can imagine that a lot of my Protestant brothers and sisters are praying for us Catholics to learn that our hope and faith are not in the Pope, praying that we abandon the papacy. They’re right in one way. Our hope and faith is in Christ alone. But it is because of that faith that we love our popes and the papacy. When Christ was about to end his earthly ministry, and was about to ascend to Heaven to take his place at the right hand of his Father, he told Peter to feed his sheep (John 21:17). Christ understood human nature. He, in his wisdom, knew that we would be easily led astray when he was no longer walking among us. So he commissioned Peter to lead us, to represent him and to guide Christ’s sheep. If Christ knew that the Christians who lived only years after his earthly ministry, many who saw him at work firsthand, could be led astray and gave them a leader, why would he not want that leadership to carry on through the ages? It has been nearly 2000 years since Christ walked the earth. It is likely that, since none of us walked with Christ on earth, without a leader to keep us from going astray we would wander far from the path. Without a leader to guide us, there would be countless factions within the christian world. There would be groups claiming that they’ve got it all right and constant divisions. But we all know that a house divided against itself cannot stand (Mark 3:25). So it makes sense that the role of leader of the Church would be passed on through the ages.
And Peter did not lead on his own. He had the other apostles to help him. And likewise, we have apostles in our day. They are the cardinals and bishops of the church. Together they help Christ’s sheep stay on the path. They keep us from being led astray and devoured by wolves. But more important than the other apostles, he had the Holy Spirit. This apostolic succession and papacy is not a man-made institution. It was started by Christ and remains guided by the Holy Spirit. The Third Person of the Trinity is involved in the selection of the bishops and the pope just as he was when the apostles replaced Judas (Acts 1:23-26). The method of choosing new apostles may be different, but the guidance of the Holy Spirit remains. He knows what the Church needs and gives it to her. And Christ promised Peter that the gates of Hell would not destroy the Church (Matthew 16:18) and that promise has held. Though there have been times when it seems the wrong man (even a terrible man) has been chosen for the role of leader, the Church is always protected because the Holy Spirit never stops guiding the ones guiding us. No matter who sits in the chair of St. Peter, the teachings of the church will always be in line with the will of God.
My faith was not in Pope Benedict XVI. My faith is not in Pope Francis I. My faith is in the wisdom of Christ and the promises he made to Peter. And so I look to the Pope and the bishops and the Church they lead to keep me from going astray, for they are the chosen representatives of Christ, the King of Kings.