The Workings of the Holy Spirit in the Conclave

White smoke emerges from the chimney on roof of the Sistine Chapel to signify there is a new popeAs we joyfully receive Pope Francis, we must look into the mysterious ways in which the Holy Spirit guides our cardinals in the election process. Before this Conclave, the Associated Press wrote about the politics involved. As with any worldwide organization, there will be competing sets of ideas and determination of one side to see their candidate in the dominant position. The difference with the papacy is that one may not seek the office, but accept it with humility. No one is above the Church and certainly not above Christ. Anyone who willingly seeks the papacy for his own ambition has committed a grave blasphemy. Every cardinal who enters the Conclave knows that he may exit as pope. So why am I upset about this article? Well…Matthew 16:23.

“Be Not Afraid”

This is a very abridged (and maybe slightly disorganized) history of Pope John Paul II as described in Witness to Hope.  Before becoming a priest, Karol Wojtyla tried twice to enter the monastic life in Poland, but was denied both times: Once because they were not accepting novices during World War II and a second time because his bishop, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, believed that young and passionate priests were needed in the streets of Krakow during the era of Communist oppression.

After his ordination in 1946, Father Wojtyla was determined to remind the Polish people that their religious freedom could not be taken from them.  Believing that the youth were the key to the future of the Church, he frequently took them out into nature and celebrated Mass, in defiance of Poland’s Communist rulers.  His experiences on these trips provided him with the raw material for Love and Responsibility.  The book was so influential that Pope Paul VI asked Wojtyla, then the auxiliary Bishop of Krakow, to help him draft Humanae Vitae, his landmark encyclical that re-stated the Church’s unchangeable teachings on the intrinsic evils of abortion and contraception.

Paul VI eventually named him Archbishop of Krakow.  Cardinal Wyszynski didn’t like the idea, feeling that Wojtyla was too poetic to effectively lead.  The Communists saw the same and enjoyed the idea, feeling that he would not be interested in state affairs and therefore not a political threat.  Paul VI died in 1978.  My mother recalls him seeming cold and distant.  The cardinals elected the man who became Pope John Paul, Albino Cardinal Luciani, known to be very warm and friendly.  His sudden death thirty-three days later shocked the Church and the world.  On October 16, 1978, after eight ballots, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla greeted the world as Pope John Paul II.

What Do We Need?

What does all this have to do with the Conclave’s politics?  I reflect on all the beautiful work that John Paul II accomplished: the Theology of The Body, continuing the work of the Vatican II, his monumental role in the fall of the Soviet Union, his intense passion for the youth of the Church, his unwavering defense of the family and the unborn, and his devotion to orthodoxy.  Pope Benedict XVI was also committed to orthodoxy and still loved by the youth despite his older age and lower levels of personal charisma.    Some argue that they lacked managerial and organizational skills.  However, after the turbulence and fallout of the 1960s, maybe we didn’t need a manager/organizer pope.

Now we are blessed with Pope Francis, our first Latin American and Jesuit pope.  His election reminds us that the office of the pope is not restricted to one nation or continent.  He remains a staunch defender of the unborn and Catholic orthodoxy.  This is quite noteworthy since most Latin American Jesuits strayed into liberation theology in the years after Vatican II.

So why all the divisions?  Wouldn’t it be much more amazing without all the politics?  I think so.  Why would Christ, who so loved His Church, allow divisions such as we see here?  We are a fallen species redeemed by His Body and Blood.  The Holy Spirit does not merely move in ways that we might interpret as “miraculous”.  He allows these divisions to make way for a greater good that our limited human intuition can’t sense.  The elections of our past two popes serve as reminders that we must surrender our anxieties regarding our Church to God.  I’m reminded of part of a recent homily I heard during which the celebrant quoted another priest saying “No parish is perfect.  If you do find a perfect parish, don’t go there.  You’ll just mess it up.”  Well, never expect a perfect Conclave either.  The Holy Spirit has such mysterious and amazing ways of giving our Church exactly what it needs.

I conclude with the encouraging words of our beloved Pope John Paul II: “BE NOT AFRAID!”

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