For a long time, Pope John Paull II was the only pope I knew. He was the pope of my childhood, and I was married with four kids by the time he died.
But his death, the funeral, and the conclave, they all unleashed a torrent of grace over the Church. It was a spiritually dark time for me and the whole series of events was a time for personal renewal and a new beginning. It wasn’t just me, many other people experienced the same or similar things.
I was a little scared and uncertain about the future of the Church. Who would lead the church after that giant’s death? The election of Joseph Ratzinger as the next pope was an unexpected joy. I had ready many of his books, they were a joy and consolation for me. His words were always bouyant with faith. But no one really expected him to become the pope, everyone said it couldn’t happen. But it did.
That gave me hope. The Church was in good hands again, in the hands of a true man of faith, a great theologian and humble soul. And then he resigned.
Once again, a new uncertainty and fear became present, as it always will whenever someone new must takeover Peter’s job.
If anything, this transition was an even bigger question mark. Surely, no one of Ratzinger’s stature could be present among the cardinals? Who could possibly do the job? Has the time of hope and grace come to end with Pope Benedict’s resignation? Could the second conclave of my life possibly be a re-play of that time of grace that was the last one?
And yet this second conclave experience, even before a new pope was elected, was once again experienced as a time of grace. A conclave, even without the death of a pope, seems to be a time of grace in itself. It’s something to marvel at. What happens during a conclave? Does the Holy Spirit energize the faithful to spiritually participate in this important ecclesial moment for the Church?
It’s kind of like the experience of going on retreat. One can feel during these times, in a unique way, the unity and the catholicity of the Church. We really are a universal family, God’s People.
When Cardinal Bergoglio was elected, I knew almost nothing about him. I was skeptical that anyone could fill the shoes of the last two popes. But a strange thing happened.
Once again, I was filled with hope. I felt again just like I did when Ratzinger was elected. Pope Francis–of course Pope Francis! How could it possibly have been anyone else? Where no man could have sufficed, this man becomes the only man for the job. John Paul and Benedict were irreplaceable, yet Francis comes out of nowhere, fitting in the fisherman’s shoes quite nicely.
Yes, Francis is just what the Church needs right now. It’s kind of a small miracle.
It’s the mystery of the Church right before our eyes. It was never about the man Wojtyla, or the man Ratzinger. It was the Holy Spirit present in those men, and present in the office of the successor of Peter that led us, consoled us, inspired us, united us as one family. The men come and go, the Holy Spirit remains always with the Church. Christ said as much when he promised always to be with us to the end of time.
It is important to recall this when Pope Francis, five years in, is now being maligned and attacked by Catholics who think that they know better than God’s providence.
It is Christ that leads the Church, the Church is his body. We should never fear for the future of our Church. When people pit Francis against Benedict, or feel that anything positive said about Francis is a slight against Benedict, they are not seeing with the eyes of faith. They are seeing the differences, but not the unity. They are being led by fear, not by hope.
There are many gifts, but one spirit. There are many ministries but one Lord. There are many popes, but one Christ that leads them.
Don’t get lost in the Babel of voices and authorities that are more Catholic than the pope, instead strive to see the miracle of the Church that is very palpable in these great times!
Husband and father of six, idea-tinkerer, failed graduate student, amateur pianist. Used to live amongst the Christmas trees, now lives surrounded by cacti and coyotes. Brian is a co-conspirator of Where Peter Is.