We are living through a historic moment in the life of the Catholic Church.
For the first time in centuries, the “seat” of St. Peter is vacant because the Pope has resigned office. As I write, Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down and arrangements are being made for a conclave of the College of Cardinals who have the sacred duty to select a new Pope. This is a beautiful spiritual moment for all of us in the Church, a time for prayer, sacrifice and worship.
Sadly, this spiritual moment has become also a time of scandal. Groups that want to manipulate the Cardinals’ decisions are stirring up most of the controversy. As the Vatican said last week: “Over the course of the centuries, Cardinals have had to face many forms of pressures … that sought to influence their decisions, following a political or worldly logic. Today there is an attempt to do this through public opinion … It is deplorable that … there is a widespread distribution of often unverified, unverifiable or even completely false news stories that cause serious damage to persons and institutions.”
All this controversy should remind us that the Church has enemies — just as Jesus promised us we would. But we can never forget that Jesus is always with his Church. He promised he would love us until the end.
Jesus founded his Church on the apostolic witness of St. Peter, the first Pope. And he promised that his Spirit would guide his Church in all truth, and that the gates of hell could never prevail against her.
We need to intensify our prayers. We need to seek the grace to resist these pressures to define the Church by the logic of politics and the spirit of this world. As we await a new Pope, we should use this time to pray for a deeper appreciation for the great mystery of the Church.
The Church is not like any other institution in the world — or in history. Because the Church is not only a human institution. The Church is also divine. Just as there are two natures in Jesus Christ — who is “true God and true man.”
We all know the Church is human. The Church is made up of men and women like you and me — and none of us is perfect. We have limitations and weaknesses we are trying to overcome. God gives us the gift of freedom. And we can use that freedom to serve him or not to.
But the Church is also divine — filled with the Holy Spirit. Our Church is God’s Church! Because the Church comes from God, the Church is holy. And because the Church is holy, we can be holy too. We can know friendship with Jesus. We can share in his strength, walk in his footsteps, and carry out the mission he entrusts to each one of us.
We should love the Church. Just like Jesus loves the Church. We should work every day to build up the Church. We should work every day to help purify the Church. To make the Church more holy, more faithful to Jesus Christ. And that begins with us. We need to have faith before we can lead others to faith. We need to be striving for holiness before we can lead others to holiness.
So that means we should intensify our participation in the divine life that comes to us through the Sacraments. We need to come to the Eucharist as often as we can. We need to examine our hearts and seek forgiveness often in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Now is the time for us to feel a deeper responsibility for the Church’s mission — of leading others to the happiness and salvation that God intends for us. Jesus founded his Church on the apostolic witness of St. Peter, the first Pope. And he promised that his Spirit would guide his Church in all truth, and that the gates of hell could never prevail against her.
So in this spiritual moment, let’s pray hard for one another and pray hard for his Church. But remember: we should pray with confidence. God is with us. His Spirit still leads us. Jesus is still walking with his Church.
In the conclave that is about to begin, the Holy Spirit is the guide and the Cardinals are the instruments. Together they will study the “signs of the times” — both in the Church and in the world. And together they will choose the Pope that God wants for his Church. One of the saints used to pray all the time: “All with Peter to Jesus through Mary!”
Let’s make that our prayer during the conclave, as we ask for the light of the Spirit to accompany Cardinal Roger Mahony and other Cardinal electors. And let us ask Mary, who is the Mother of the Church, to increase our love for Jesus and his Church.
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