Monday, March 11, 2013

Whatcha Need on Conclave's Eve

Scouring the streets of Rome the day before a papal conclave is a fascinating experience.

What is really about to unfold in the coming day?

Like so much of what the Catholic Church says, the happenings of a conclave not only borders on, but races straight into, the arms of the humanly impossible: the successor of Peter will be chosen. And he will be chosen in a line of unbroken historical succession, stretching back two millennia. And he will be given the grace to shepherd the universal Church that Jesus Himself founded. 

So today has been, well...strange, trying to take in the feeling, the atmosphere around Rome and the Vatican.

For some tourists who got lucky with scheduling, it's just a spectacle. For flippant and good-humored (but cynical) Roman restauranteurs, it's Rome just being Rome.  For politically and globally (but secular) -minded people, it's the interesting but dumbfounding creaking of a old dusty bureaucratic grandfather clock.   

But for the theologically minded--that is, those who see history as something which God has strangely entered into *(through the very unprecedented events recorded in the documents we call the Old and New Testaments) it is something quite indescribable: the election of the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ.

Remember how strange Peter is in the New Testament, especially the Acts of the Apostles. He denies Jesus when it counted most. Then, later on, his shadow heals people when it falls on them. He teaches so powerfully that thousands of people are baptized into the Christian life. He has mystical visions. Apostles like Paul submit their God-given teaching to him for approval. And, as the Gospels hint and history bears out, he humiliatingly sacrifices his life as a witness by a tortuous death, so calmly convinced he was that something worth living--and dying for--had begun in the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

But I guess what hit me today, walking around the almost-too-normal streets of Rome, was how everything Catholics believe about the Papacy as the succession of Peter and Peter's office in the Church (and therefore through normal, "secular" history), is utterly contingent on the active work and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that came upon Peter and the other Eleven on that weird morning we call "Pentecost." The Spirit that the 115 men in red will invoke in chant tomorrow morning as they march into another upper room with locked doors. 

....With all this on my mind, I marched up the Gianicolo Hill on the Night Before the Conclave to the North American College (the "NAC"), and offered the Holy Mass at the Pentecost Altar in the crypt chapel. And there I prayed that God would guide the Cardinals (and the whole Church) by means of the absolutely necessary grace of a new Pentecost. Meaning that God would directly guide those entrusted with the universal Church, with Fire that cannot be seen, but whose effects are seen and experienced. 

Meaning that God would give us what we could never give ourselves: a shepherd who will feed His lambs, and tend His sheep, with Divine Life, with Heavenly Fire.  

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