As I write, the historic conclave of cardinals has just begun.
We are living in a moment like we read about in the Acts of the Apostles. I’ve been thinking a lot about the first Church Council, the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. At the end of the Council, the apostles announced, “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.”
This is the beautiful mystery of what is going on right now in Rome. Jesus promised his Spirit of truth to guide his Church. In this sacred conclave, the successors of the apostles will decide, with the Holy Spirit, to elect the man the Lord has chosen to be his pope.
I am thinking also these days of Jesus’ words: “You are Peter! And on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”
In the surprise of Pope Benedict XVI resigning, and with the excitement of the conclave, we can forget that we are in the middle of the Year of Faith. But in God’s loving plan, this year has become a great chance for us to grow in our faith in the pope as the Vicar of Christ on earth.
We need this faith! It’s essential to our Catholic identity. Every Catholic should have great love for the pope, no matter who the pope is. St. Catherine of Siena used to call the pope the “sweet Christ on earth.” We should have this same faith and warm affection.
The pope is the “rock” that the Church stands on. Christ has given him responsibility for leading and feeding the flock of God. I think of those final words that Jesus spoke to Peter, on the seashore after the Resurrection: “Feed my sheep! … Follow me!”
From Rome, the message of Jesus Christ goes out to all the ends of the earth. The pope’s ministry is the source of divine blessing and healing in our world. Under the pope’s authority, the Church has power — through her Sacraments — to sanctify and set free. To forgive our sins and to make us holy.
Again I hear Jesus’ words to Peter: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Every pope bears heavy burdens that we cannot know. St. Paul used to talk about “the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.” This is the weight that every pastor and every bishop carries — a deep concern for the souls entrusted to his care. This burden weighs heaviest on the pope, as head of the universal Church. So we should pray for the pope’s intentions every day, and we should join our prayers to acts of atonement and self-sacrifice for him.
Faith in the pope also means growing every day in loyalty and obedience to his teaching authority. His words are wisdom for living. His words make the Gospel a message for today and a help for the challenges of living.
In the run-up to the conclave, there has been a lot of talk about what the Church “needs” and what the cardinals are “looking for” in a new Pope. This analysis has focused on important issues that remind us that the Church always needs purification and renewal. But in every time and in every age, what the Church needs most is holiness. What the Church needs most — and what God desires — is that you and I become saints.
The Church will be renewed when you and I, and all our brothers and sisters are truly living our faith. Every day. With our whole hearts and minds and with all our strength.
The pope we are all looking for — the pope that we know the Lord will provide us — will be a servant of salvation and a servant of God’s joy. This is also a task for each of us, as fellow followers of Christ. Not to do our will, not to pursue our own agendas. But to seek God’s will.
With our new pope, whoever he is, we are called to believe in Jesus and to let our ourselves be led by him. We are called to follow Jesus in the company of others, in the family of his Church. To be nourished by his Word and by his Body and Blood, and to every day try to be more like him.
With our new pope, we are called to share our faith and to build the Kingdom of God, with the patience and love of Christ — every day in every area of life.
So let us pray for one another and for our Church. And let us ask the intercession of Mary our Mother and the Mother of the Church. May we all go to Jesus, closely united to the Pope, through Mary.