This is a surreal moment. While you are reading this issue of The Priest magazine near Pentecost, publishing deadlines are such that I am writing this column in early March! In fact, today is third day of the General Congregations of the Cardinals meeting in Rome to prepare for the conclave to elect the successor to Benedict XVI, now our pope emeritus. By the time you read this, we will know who the new pope is, but as of this writing, that is known only to the Holy Spirit. It strikes me that this moment of temporal disequilibrium is a good opportunity to reflect on the new beginnings we celebrate with Pentecost, especially in light of a new “servant of the servants of God” who has assumed his ministry at this point in our pilgrimage into the Reign of God.
I can only presume that by now the media coverage has lessened somewhat now that a conclave, election and installation have come and gone; at least I hope those events have transpired and that we are not still in the middle of a conclave! What struck me as the news of Pope Benedict’s retirement and the interregnum took center stage in many people’s minds, was the “timelessness” of the moment, a chairos time not unlike that faced by those early disciples as they awaited the coming of the Christ-promised Paraclete. They, too, were anxious and unsure what the Spirit of God would require of them as they moved into the future. As I write this, reports out of Rome tell of Cardinals trying to gain a sense of which of the challenges facing the Church today should be at the top of the new Vicar of Peter’s to-do list as he assumes the Petrine ministry. By now, our new Pope has emerged to take on those challenges.
However, even within this chairos time, chronos time continues as well. For those of us who serve as priests and deacons, especially in parochial ministry, we have observed yet again that the daily life of our communities has gone on with its normal pace and rhythms, even without a pope. We and the people we serve continue to face the joys and challenges of daily life as always. One national headline has proclaimed, “The Pope Resigns: The People of God are Waiting.” Yes, we are waiting and dreaming, perhaps, but we are also living as Church in a very real world. We “live and move and take our being” from the God who is always with us.
So, as we transition from Pentecost back to Ordinary Time during this year of endings and new beginnings, the papal transition can model the same movement in our own ministries and lives. Do we have the courage and humility of a pope-emeritus who acknowledges that it is the ministry itself that is more important than we who serve; do we have the courage and the humility of the new successor of Peter who has been called forth to assume the mantle of servant-leadership, despite his own reservations and uncertainties? Ultimately, all of this reflects the power and action of the Holy Spirit who fills, empowers, consoles and inspires all of God’s people as we all face the uncertainties which lie ahead. After Pentecost, the frightened followers left the upper room to engage the dangerous world in which they lived; our new pope has left the balcony and commenced his own new ministry, and we all move from the glory of the Easter Season into the demands of “ordinary” time, to proclaim Christ to the “whole world” of family, school, work and marketplace.
During the interregnum, many dioceses and parishes celebrated Masses “For the Election of a Pope.” The entrance antiphon is: “I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who shall do according to my heart and mind; I will establish a lasting house for him and he shall walk before me all his days” (1 Sm 2:35).
Perhaps this is the perfect prayer for all of us as we move from Pentecost into Ordinary Time. TP