by Joseph F. Naumann
After the election of Pope Francis, I was asked in a radio interview if I thought the church should update the process of electing a pope. The interviewer went on to inquire: “In this age of instant messaging, do you think that they will get rid of the white smoke and just tweet the results of the papal election? Do you think that they will abandon the secrecy of the conclave and become more transparent by inviting in the press?”
I told her that I did not know about the “white smoke.” Certainly, there is no reason that this has to be the first signal that we have a new pope. Personally, I hope the church does not change it. I think that it adds to the charm and the drama of the election. It connects the election of a new pope with those elected previously and it is a visual reminder that the election of the Holy Father for the Catholic Church is unique and different from all the trivia that is tweeted every day.
With regard to the secrecy of the conclave, this is something that the church could change, but once again, I hope we do not. I asked the reporter to think back to our last presidential election. Everyone was so glad when it was over. Our American election process requires candidates to do endless self-promotion, campaigning for the office. Even worse, to win an election today a candidate and his supporters, it would seem, must engage in all sorts of negative messaging about rival candidates.
The conclave is conduct- ed in a confidential and, more importantly, prayerful environment. The cardinals are not permitted to campaign for the office. The confidentiality of the conclave shields the cardinals from being subjected to outside pressure. They can prayerfully focus their attention on discerning who can best lead the church at this particular moment.
This interview reminded me of William Kristol’s (editor and publisher of The Weekly Standard magazine) comments after Pope Benedict’s visit to the United States. Mr. Kristol, who is Jewish, remarked that the last two Catholic popes have been very impressive individuals. He noted how both were brilliant intellectuals, but even more impressive was their personal integrity. They lived in a manner consistent with what they taught. Mr. Kristol said you have to give the College of Cardinals high marks in their selection of these leaders for the church. Then he proposed that maybe our nation ought to look into this method of selecting our leadership.
To use a metaphor that might normally be associated more with the baseball Cardinals, the selection of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to serve as the new successor of St. Peter appears, from all early indications, to be another home run by the College of Cardinals. Pope Francis has made a powerful first impression on the world and has given us glimpses of why the cardinals, guided by the Holy Spirit, chose him to lead the church at this moment.
Pope Francis manifested his sense of humor when he quipped that his brother cardinals went to the ends of the world to find a new bishop for Rome. The Holy Father, before giving us his first blessing as pope, with what we are learning is characteristic humility, requested that those in St. Peter’s Square first pray for him, asking God to bless him in fulfilling his new responsibilities.
His decision to ride in the bus with the other cardinals back to Domus Santa Marta, his going by himself to St. Mary Major to pray, carrying his own luggage — all are apparently consistent with the lifelong habits of our new Holy Father. It is obvious that Pope Francis truly believes in the title that has been given to popes for centuries, “servant of the servants of God.”
In his first homily as pope, given to the cardinals on the day following his election, Pope Francis described the life of a disciple in general — and the ministry of bishop, in particular — as one of journeying, building and professing. Pope Francis understands himself and every disciple being on a journey in the presence of the Lord. He observed that when we stop moving, we get into trouble.
Pope Francis spoke of the responsibility of building the church with the living stones that are the people of God, but always on the cornerstone that is Jesus Christ.
The Holy Father reminded the cardinals that at the heart of their ministry is the professing of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus, Pope Francis says the church might be “a charitable nongovernmental organization, but not . . . the bride of the Lord.”
Moreover, the Holy Father challenged the cardinals, cautioning: “When we do not profess Jesus Christ, we profess the worldliness of the devil, a demonic worldliness.”
The Gospel for the Mass was Mt 16: 13-23, the confession of St. Peter. In this passage, Peter professed his belief in Jesus as Messiah, the Son of the living God. In turn, Jesus declared Peter to be the “rock” upon which Our Lord would build the church and to whom he de- sired to entrust the keys of the kingdom. Immediately after this exchange between Jesus and Peter, Our Lord spoke to the disciples about his approaching passion and death. Peter told Jesus to quit speaking this way, which prompted Our Lord to admonish Peter, saying: “Get behind me, Satan! You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”
Pope Francis then said to the cardinals rather bluntly: “When we journey without the cross, when we build without the cross, when we profess Christ without the cross, we are not disciples of the Lord — we are worldly. We may be bishops, priests, cardinals, popes — but not disciples of the Lord.”
I encourage you during Holy Week to ponder these words of Pope Francis. We cannot follow Jesus without it leading us to Calvary. The cross reveals to us the depth of God’s love for us, but it also reminds us that the Lord counseled that if one wishes to be his disciple, then one must take up the cross and follow him. May this Holy Week give us re- newed energy to profess our faith and love for Jesus and to follow him all the way — even to Calvary.