Published April 21, 2005
When you read this column, you will already know the name of the new Pope, Benedict XVI, and you may be busy following all of the news reports regarding his background, his age, his national origin, his hobbies, his plans for the Church—even though the new Pope will not have had much time to do or say much more than his willingness to serve the Lord’s Church faithfully. The death of Pope John Paul II and the election of the new Pope have captured the imagination of the world in ways that have eclipsed even the most generous estimate of public interest.
Our communication capabilities have brought the world to the Vatican and the Vatican to the world. That is both a blessing and a limitation. Many of us have focused upon this important event and applied the standards of the world to a reality that is fundamentally a spiritual experience. God’s Spirit is the driving force in what is occurring this week in the Vatican—and hopefully within the hearts of Catholics everywhere. God uses human behavior and human perspectives to accomplish His will.
Remember the description from the Acts of the Apostles on how the Eleven chose a successor to Judas: So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this apostolic ministry from which Judas turned away to go to his own place.” Then they gave lots to them, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was counted with the eleven apostles (Acts 1:24-26).
The Holy Spirit revealed to the Apostolic Church that Matthias was to be the successor of Judas by rolling dice! Now, I am not suggesting that particular method for choosing Church ministers, but the point is that the early Church seemed to use human actions as a means to discover God’s will. They first prayed, and then they rolled the dice.
One of the problems with so much of the media coverage—and maybe with our own analysis of this event—is that we tend to focus exclusively on the human dimension of the process and we do not give primary trust to the spiritual component. Without the faith of the Church, the conclave would be just another election—with all of the pitfalls of any human election. We believe that God is very much at work at the Vatican this week and that the new pontiff will be the one that the Holy Spirit chooses through the very human behavior of the cardinals in the conclave.
Last week, I was privileged to share lunch with a group of Catholic business people. Our conversations focused on the upcoming conclave. One gentleman made the observation, thankfully, that in spite of all of the media coverage and speculation and candidate analysis, the Catholic Church is engaged in a spiritual event this week. That should be most reassuring to all of us.
In particular, the new Pope, Benedict XVI, must know that his election is God’s will and that he will enjoy the love and prayers of Catholics the world over, not because of his nationality, his heritage or his continent of origin, and not because of his theological views and his administrative style, but simply because he is the successor of Peter in the year 2005. We Catholics will pray for him and follow his pastoral guidance with love and humility.
When the Holy Spirit is at work, we are not afraid to roll the dice!