Wait In Joyful Hope

sede vacanteOn Thursday evening, Pope Benedict XVI will retire.  The Catholic Church will enter into a period called “sede vacante.”  This means “empty seat” and refers to the seat of the Bishop of Rome at St. John Lateran Church in Rome, which is the Pope’s home church.  Every Bishop’s church is a cathedral church because his “cathedra” or the chair signifying his authority as Bishop is within it.  It is the authority of the Bishop of Rome and successor to St. Peter which the Pope invokes when he’s teaching us issues of faith “ex cathedra” or “from the chair” of St. Peter.  That authority comes from Jesus Christ.  But I’m not writing this to defend or explain the authority of the Popes.  If you’re interested in that, you might want to research things like the history of the Davidic Kingdom, the Aramaic language and the Scriptural basis for the papacy.  This is more a reflection on waiting for the Lord.  Before you stop reading (how b-o-r-i-n-g is waiting?) think about how much of your own life is spent waiting.  You wait in line, wait at red lights, you wait for other people.  You wait for the right place and the right time to do or say things.  You may see waiting as just an annoying waste of your valuable time.  But you’d be wrong.  Waiting time is a blessing if you invite Christ to wait with you.
This is what the Cardinals of the Catholic Church will be doing when they gather together in conclave to elect the next Pope.  Yes, it’s an election and like all elections, there comes with it a kind of unseemly, “human” side to it, especially looking at the process from the outside.  And unless you’re a Cardinal, we’re ALL on the outside of this, Just watch and read any of the mainstream media and you’ll hear all about it:  conspiracies, self-promotion, false prophecy and secret rituals.  The truth is a lot simpler and less “interesting” to the talking heads, however.  The truth is that the conclave is about prayer and waiting.  The Cardinals (in communion with all the Church) pray to be led by the Holy Spirit to choose the man desired by God to lead His Church.  This doesn’t mean that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel will open, the clouds will part and a sunbeam will fall onto the chosen one.  God is more subtle than that, usually.  Remember that Elijah waited to hear from God and when he did,it was in a gentle whisper (I King 19:11-13).  This wasn’t a Hollywood kind of moment and neither is a conclave.  So how will God lead our Cardinals?
Firstly, through the gift of Himself in the Eucharist.  They’ll meet together every day for Mass.  Each Cardinal will spend time in communal and private Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament.  The men will pray for guidance in the presence of God.  They’ll also continue to pray the Divine Office which is the worldwide daily prayer of the Psalms along with other readings and hymns which, along with the Mass, make up the public prayer of the Church.  Without some of the distractions of daily life they can focus on opening their hearts and minds to do the will of God in electing a new Pope.  They’ll also have time for fellowship with one another.  They’ll share meals and wine and probably a cigar or two.  They’ll enjoy walks in the beautiful Vatican gardens and share conversations and concerns as the conclave unfolds.  Will they discuss the “papabile,” the men thought by some to be the leading candidates for Pope?  Sure.  These guys aren’t immune to human curiosity and speculation.  But God can work through these processes too.  Otherwise nothing in this world would ever be done according to His will.
And so, while the Church holds our collective breath during the conclave, there are things we can do to support and encourage our Cardinals.  We can go to Mass and offer our intentions for them and for the man they’ll choose.  We can go to Adoration and offer our holy hour for the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the process.  We can use our Lenten sacrifices in this same way.  When non-Catholic friends ask about the process, we can explain it to them in charity.  And we can offer the Lord our own private prayers for the man whom we’ll soon be calling “Holy Father.”  This is a remarkable time for the Catholic Church and we have faith that the Lord’s promises to those who wait and trust in Him will be fulfilled.  We’re in good company when we wait in God’s love.  Remember Job and Elijah, Noah and David and St. Paul.  Remember how our Blessed Mother awaited the birth of her Son.  I’m drawn to the father of the prodigal son, who waited patiently and hopefully for his wandering child to come home to him (Luke 15:11-24).  His love and faith never wavered.  He held fast.  And when his son returned home to him, there was a huge celebration!  That’s a pretty good model for us to follow.  Let’s wait and pray and never lose faith that God will lead our Cardinals in His grace and love.  Then….we’ll party.
“Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted and wait for the Lord.”                                                           –Psalm 27:14

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