Do you remember when you heard the news that Benedict XVI had been elected?
I was actually watching everything streaming over the internet on EWTN at the time. I remember feeling a sense of great joy when it was clear that the smoke was white and there would be a new pope. I was relieved that the conclave had been so short, because I thought a long conclave might lead to the secular media having a speculation field day in ways that go beyond the normal. I was then, as I am now, ready to embrace whoever was ultimately chosen, but I did have a favorite at the time-someone who I felt led by the Holy Spirit to pray for especially. His name was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and he was the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. I was praying specifically for him-I had a feeling in the depth of my soul that he should be pope and that he would be pope.
When his name was announced I was ecstatic-I did not know whether to laugh or shout or cry with glee. I understood beyond the shadow of any doubt in my mind that God's will had been done that day, I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit about the whole business, even though I was watching on a computer screen thousands of miles away from Rome. I still believe that today-Benedict has been a wonderful shepherd.
When I heard the news that he would abdicate the Chair of Peter this Thursday early in the morning on Monday, February 11th, I had the inevitable reaction of shock, sadness, and a degree of disappointment. I love the Holy Father. I love his writings, and I have a deep appreciation for what his work has meant for the Church over many, many years of faithful service. His theological opus has reached people of all faiths and has won many converts to the Church, most of whom never met him. Then I listened to and read his statement, and the words he has spoken about his decision since that day, and I believe that as the Holy Spirit brought him to the See of Peter, the Holy Spirit has let him know that the time is right for another to take his place.
This time around, there are two or three of the cardinals who I think might make a fine Pontiff, but now it is purely a matter of personal opinion on my part. I don't have the strong feeling and the leading from the Holy Spirit that I felt preceding the last conclave that one of the men ought to and would likely be elected, and Cardinal N. is that person-now I simply feel a need to pray for all of the cardinal-electors with some fervor.
One thing that seems to be occurring at a very unhealthy level is that there seems to be more media pressure and speculation than there was last time and-if some Catholic sources are to be believed-perhaps more than has ever been. The amount of speculative media frenzy has become so ridiculous that even the Vatican has openly condemned it as disgraceful. We are all entitled as Catholics to our own opinions of who we might like to see elected or not (that is human nature to a degree), but we all have to respect that not only is the conclave to be kept secret (and should forever be), but it is to be kept secret in order to preserve the integrity and the legitimacy of the papal election itself. Furthermore, whoever is elected deserves our respect, affection, support, and will have great need of our prayers.
As for Holy Father Benedict, I am thankful for his ministry, and I believe the Church and the cause of the Gospel are better served today because Joseph Ratzinger devoted his life to the service of the Church and we have been blessed to have him in the Chair of St. Peter. Let us pray for him as he prays for us.
Let us also pray for the Cardinals who will vote in this upcoming conclave. I have a little prayer I came up with for them-it isn't much, just the thoughts of my heart, and I invite you to pray with me or to pray a prayer for them from your own heart.
Almighty Ever-living God, may your guiding hand and the power of your holy presence be among the Cardinal-electors, as they gather at the threshold of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul to choose a new successor to fill the shoes of the Fisherman. May they be so disposed to choose a man after your own heart, who delights in your laws and meditates upon you day and night.
Through the intercession of Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, may he pilot the barque of your Church through the stormy spiritual seas of our skeptical age, that we may reach in triumph the glory of your everlasting Kingdom.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.