Monday, March 11, 2013

Pre-conclave jitters? Be not afraid!

When news of Pope Benedict's abdication set in, my thoughts turned to who might be our next Holy Father.  Of course, over several weeks the range of emotions I had swung from confident trust in God, to anxiety that human fallen nature of the Cardinal-electors might give us a man not quite of God's choosing, then back to a different kind of trust in God. Perhaps some of you have also experienced some of these emotions.

Early on, I kept confidently saying, "God is driving this bus."  Then, the ever-joyful Brandon Vogt put something up on his Facebook page on February 12:

Over the last couple days I've heard many people say, "STOP speculating on who the next pope will be! The Holy Spirit chooses the pope, not us. Leave it to Him!" 

Yet interestingly, back in 1997, our current Pope offered a different view. On Bavarian television he was asked whether the Holy Spirit is responsible for electing the pope. Cardinal Ratzinger replied:

"I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote.  
Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined. There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked." 

Several others have also put that quote up in social media and in blog posts. 

But what if we got the wrong man for Pope?

I realized after reading that quote from Ratzinger that I had fallen into a line of thinking that basically left no need to pray, really.  If God was truly driving the bus, then it would mean things would fall into place according to His will, regardless of the free will he gives to the cardinal-electors, or regardless of human fallen nature to which non of them are immune.

Suddenly, I was no longer confident and felt the need to pray, and to pray hard.  But I was also shaken at the thought of human fallen nature prevailing and getting a pope who would hinder many of the reforms initiated by Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI, such as those related to our understanding of worship and the celebration of the liturgy, and of the Second Vatican Council. I wondered if the new Holy Father would continue to strive for Christian unity the way Benedict XVI had.

As the days went by these past few weeks, I finally settled into a comfortable position.  I went back to something that has always given me hope and trust in God: What God doesn't will, he permits.

I believe God has a man in mind for the job.  My prayer has since evolved from praying that a certain cardinal get elected pope, to praying sincerely, that God shower the cardinal-electors with graces, and that at least 2/3 of them will act on those graces.  If that happens, we have the best possible scenario and get the will of God.

But, even if we get a man not of God's will, we can still be hopeful with a candidate that God would permit (in the case of not all of the 2/3 acting on God's graces). Whomever is elected will get the added grace of the office they hold. Of course, they must act on that grace and we should presume they would.  This should lead us to pray more fervently for the new pope. 

The lesson of Pope John Paul I, according to Ratzinger 

I quietly confided in a friend that I have long believed that the death, after barely a month on the throne, of the "September pope," Pope John Paul I, was a sign that the Cardinal-electors had not fully acted on God's graces.  My thought was then, as it is now, that if a man is chosen that is not of God's will, or one that God does not wish to permit, he will take him out. It's that simple.  He's God. I don't believe for a minute that Albino Luciani was not a very holy man. God may have permitted him to be elevated for that month knowing he was about to call him to his reward very soon, and to teach the cardinal-electors to break with a tradition (small "t").  I don't think Pope John Paul I's death was a reflection on him at all; rather, I think it reflected on the fallen human nature of cardinal-electors who were unwilling to look beyond Italy for a new pontiff.  My friend quickly wrote back to tell me I was not alone in my thought and that none other than Cardinal Ratzinger said as much the same about that conclave.  I went googling and found the quote, sure enough. After saying that he believes John Paul I to be a saint, the interview continues thus (emphasis mine in bold in the answers).

When you came together for the second conclave in 1978 what was the dominant feeling in the College of Cardinals? 

RATZINGER: After that sudden death we were all a bit depressed. It had been a bad blow. Of course, after the death of Paul VI there was also sadness. But Montini’s had been a whole life, that had had its natural epilogue. He himself was expecting death, he spoke about his death. After such a great pontificate there had been a new beginning, with a pope of a different type but in full continuity. But that Providence had said no to our election was really a hard blow. Though the election of Luciani was no mistake. Those thirty-three days of pontificate have had a function in the history of the Church.
Which is? 

RATZINGER: It was not only the witness of goodness and of a joyful faith. But that sudden death also opened the doors to an unexpected choice. That for a non-Italian Pope.

Had the possibility been taken into consideration at the first conclave of 1978?
RATZINGER: It was also spoken of. But it wasn’t a very real possibility, not least because there was the fine figure of Albino Luciani. After it was thought that there was a need for something absolutely new. 

God has an interesting way of getting our attention.  Perhaps it wasn't just a lesson to the cardinal-electors, but to a segment of faithful Catholics who themselves might have struggled with a non-Italian if not for that brief pontificate of Pope John Paul I.  I recall how I felt back then as a teen - pretty much as I still feel today: Hopeful for the future of the Church.  God may not be fully driving the bus, but he knows how to take the wheel when necessary.  

As to conspiracy theories about Pope John Paul I being murdered, I haven't even bothered to read about them.  What God doesn't will he permits, and he permitted the death of Albino Luciani by some means, whether it was a natural death or murder (in the case of the latter, no one escapes the Just Judge). 

Sometimes I think we forget that God is God, and because he is God, he can send a legion of angels to anyone's defense at a given moment.  He had a reason for not sending that legion to keep Christ from the Cross. Who am I to question what God wills or permits? How many times did we say we escaped sudden death only by the grace of God, perhaps as we approached an intersection with a deadly accident?  
That is the attitude I am taking into this conclave: I have my desires about the direction I think the Church needs to go, and the problems that need resolution; but I don't know nearly as much as God knows.  This much I will say: Whomever is elected, even if he is a man who would give me pause, he will have my love, fidelity and my most sincere prayers.  I go forward knowing that while God may not be driving the bus, each breath we take, and each breath a new pope takes, only happens because God graces us with time to know, love, and serve him. 

Be not afraid!

If you have not done so, adopt a cardinal to pray for.  If you have no added time for prayer, offer up your works for him.  You are praying that he acts on God's graces.  Join hundreds of thousands of others in this most productive way to spend time during the Conclave.

See also, my last post which has audio of a talk on the papacy given by Fr. Perrone this past Friday at the fish fry.  MP3 is available free of charge.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
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