And so it begins. For the next day or two, or three (it is not ours to know the day nor the hour) the world attention will be riveted on a chimney, like the minds of kids on Christmas Eve. The mass Pro eligendo Romano Pontifice has been celebrated, the Cardinals have sworn secrecy, the doors are sealed, and the world waits.
Outside, pundits ponder papabili.
The Catholic News Service put together an informative video about how a conclave works. In it, Cardinal Stafford, the former Archbishop of Denver who has worked for years at the Vatican and who has passed the age of being a cardinal elector this time around, speaks about the atmosphere of prayer in a conclave.
Each cardinal prays. And prays. And, as they cast their ballots, they pray, and they vow that their choice has been pondered in prayer, and that their choice is whom they believe will be the best to lead Christ’s Church on earth. Cardinal Stafford remarks, “What if all elections were this way?” Wow.
Democracy in Greece was based on a profound thought: ἄνθρωπος ἀνθρώπῳ δαίμων (anthropos anthropo daimon,) literally, “man for man a deity.” The voice of the gods, the expression of their will for man, could come from any citizen in the assembly, so each had a right to speak and to vote.
Of course, truly universal suffrage was millennia away, and yet, how different the Greek intuition is from the Hobbesian homo homini lupus, “man for man a wolf,” which sees government as a means to quell the self-seeking rancor of a dog-eat-dog world. How different it is to see my neighbor as an image of God than as one who, but for the constraints of law, would gladly tear me to pieces.
What if our elections were more like conclaves, where we take time to pray, to ponder the common good, to place ourselves before God and to vow that our choice is not what we think merely best for us and our agenda, but for the good of everyone?
One gets the impression that so much of politics these days is just blowing smoke, with media outlets so many stoves and chimneys that chemically color the smoke whatever tinge tickles their fancy.
Most of the media covers a conclave as if it were little more than a caucus of curmudgeonly clerics, each with a private agenda. While cardinals are as human as you or I, the basest among them is still a man of prayer, who feels the weight of the moment and is begging the Holy Spirit for light.
As a jaded world awaits a new Pontiff, let us take a lesson for ourselves. May prayer be the atmosphere of all of our important choices. It may be the only way to prevent our world from going up in smoke.
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Reprinted with permission from the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College.