The Vatican announced Friday that the conclave to elect the 266th bishop of Rome will begin Tuesday afternoon after a morning mass concelebrated by the 115 cardinal electors. If recent history is to guide us, we should have a new pope by next weekend, maybe even Thursday or Friday. Yay! Or not. We know there are many uncertainties that dot the path ahead, all of which are within the realm of possibility, more or less. That is why the popes laid down rules to provide for such contingencies. After the cardinals are sequestered (yes, that is a proper use of the word) and all others are sent out of the Sistine Chapel on Tuesday afternoon, the first vote will take place. No one will probably emerge with a two thirds majority + 1, or 77 votes, so soon. Or not, who really knows. That question will be answered eventually when white smoke rises from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel. Or not. And if no two-thirds majority is reached, we can expect two votes in the morning and two votes in the afternoon for the next three days, but smoke from the chimney only twice a day. If there is still no two-thirds majority after three days, the cardinals will pause for a day of reflection and prayer, and resume voting the day after that. And if the smoke continues to signal no two-thirds majority after that, now I am speculating, they will continue with four votes each day for three days, and one day of reflection and prayer before a new round begins. Or not, but that’s just my guess.
It is unlikely the process will extend beyond next weekend. Or not, because really, who knows? The longest it took to elect a pope was in 1740 when Benedict XIV was elected. It took 181 days, and four electors died during the conclave. My guess, the conclave and the deaths, unrelated. Or not. The conclave of 1830 that elected Gregory XVI was the last to elect a cardinal who was not also a bishop. The conclave of 1939 that elected Pius XII was the shortest with three votes in two days. So, if you think you can figure out what happens next this time around, you might know something the rest of us don’t. And if you are confident the Holy Spirit has always been and is still in charge, you can go about your day with peace of mind and heart. The human element in this whole process will be guided by the rules laid down by previous popes. But we have to acknowledge there is a divine element that eludes even the best and brightest among us. Every time this happens, people will come up with their lists, and the Holy Spirit puts us all to shame. So, what do we really know, and when will we ever learn?
The way I see it, we sometimes make too big a deal about seeing things from God’s perspective, things that in the long run don’t really truly matter. But the things that do matter, things that God is forever trying to help us see and understand, we also end up forever resisting and ignoring. The best examples come to us from scripture. For instance, Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:13 that “we know neither the day nor the hour” presumably, of our own passing from this life or the end of the world as we know it. And in Luke 21:11, “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Still we listen to people who tell us they know things, even when Jesus says in Mark 13:32, “of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Not even the Son, and occasionally some will claim the Blessed Mother had told them.
You who are parents or teachers, or both, can relate to this. When you spend much effort and resources preparing your children and students to face the world, hoping to provide them a double share of your wisdom and experience in an effort to give them an edge and help them avoid those obstacles you encountered on the road to maturity, you are sometimes met with resistance. Why, you ask, when all you are trying to do is help them achieve their potential and assure their success? What will it take for them to see what you see? How can they be so thick-headed, so resistant, so blind? And then you remember they are your own children, or you have met their parents, and you throw your hands in surrender. Yet God who for generations has sent us prophets and his very own Son to proclaim his message of compassion, healing, and encouragement knows exactly your frustration.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we “were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness … for everything that becomes visible is light.” This is not rocket science. We, of all people, know the dark corners of our own lives, where we struggle with habits of sin, where we continue to resist God’s invitation to forgiveness and healing, where we know God is not welcome. How do we embrace the light if we are unwilling to pray to God from the depths of our souls, and truly listen to what he has to say? How do we welcome the light if we are unwilling to know God better and learn what is pleasing to him, if we do not take the time to reflect on his Word, and imitate his example? How do we embrace the light if we are afraid to proclaim the truths of our faith with our words and with our lives, that if we desire forgiveness for ourselves then we ought to forgive our neighbor, that if we want to build a world of justice then we should treat one another with fairness and respect, that if we desire to be raised up when we fall then we should be willing to raise up those who like us have fallen. How do we welcome the light if we are reluctant to share it with others, by telling them of our joy and our hope? “Live as children of light.” Yes, it means we purge our hearts of selfishness, and give up the darkness. And darkness is nothing more than the absence of light. In the light of God’s truth, our minds are opened, and we are led in the ways of justice. In the light of God’s love, our hearts are strengthened, and we embrace God’s healing for the world. In the light of God’s life, we are made whole, and we welcome the Holy Spirit who comes to renew the earth.
The Pharisees did not want to hear what the blind man was saying, because to them he is and will always be blind. They did not want to hear the message that Jesus came to bring because to them he is and will always be an outsider, a sinner, and the farthest from a prophet they could ever imagine. When the prophet Samuel was sent to anoint the leader that God had chosen for his people Israel, he soon realized he did not truly know the mind of God. We wait with hope in the days ahead for the pope God will choose for us. Why don’t we also pray that God will give him much strength, faith, courage, compassion, understanding, fortitude, joy? And we can instead focus on the journey of Lent, and God’s insistent but gentle call to “live as children of light.” Or not.
Rolo B. Castillo © 2013