They said the Holy Spirit would decide the election outcome of the new Pope. I wanted to believe this, but if truth be told I fully believed the Cardinals in conclave would decide. I did pray that the Holy Spirit nudge those Cardinals in the right direction.
Now, having heard and seen Pope Francis on television, I believe the choice was a good one. The Holy Spirit did indeed nudge those Cardinals and have the final say. This Pope is a saintly man, a humble suffering man, with a clear vision of rebuilding stone by stone the Church of Saint Peter. Young Francis Bernadone of Assisi heard God speak through the crucifix in the rundown chapel of San Damiano: “Rebuild my church which is falling to ruin.” And so seven hundred years later, a new Francis will answer the call again, will begin the rebuilding, the reforming.
I was deeply touched by the drama of Francis’s first twenty-four hours, particularly his sense of symbolic public act even at this early stage. He stands to meet the Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel, rather than sitting on the papal throne. He leaves them before finishing these ritual greetings to step out on the balcony to see his people, who must not be kept waiting any longer. He dons a simple white cassock. He stands on the balcony, his hands at his side, reminding me of Christ before Pilate. Here I am, take me, his body seemed to say. Then there were his first words to his flock. Good evening, brothers and sisters. He asks the packed square to pray for Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus, and the entire throng say together with one voice their beloved Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Glory Be. Finally, he asks his people to pray for him. The square becomes silent in the damp night as they pray for their new Pope.
He is a man of the poor, pastoring the slums of Buenos Aires. He rode the bus, gave away the mansion, rented rooms where he cooked for himself and turned off the heat. He will rebuild his Church with the stones of poverty and humility, of obedience and discipline. He will expect those alongside him to do the same, as they gather such stones for a stronger foundation.
He is also a man of intellect, understanding. He knows what is true and what is not. He knows God, and he knows God’s Son. He is filled with the Holy Spirit. He is filled because he has emptied his self. He has a big job ahead of him, and with God’s help he can do it.
I wonder if Catholics fully recognize what has happened this week in the Church. I wonder if Christendom fully appreciates the man that will steer the course for the largest body of Christians in the world. This man will make a difference for all of us. He will carry on the work of those before him, but he will do it in a powerful way, a different way. He will straighten the paths with his humility and map the future with his discipline.
Today is Passion Sunday, marking the beginning of Passiontide, the way of love and suffering of Our Lord. These two weeks before Easter are a time of deep Lent, when we draw closer and closer to the Way of the Cross, the path to Golgotha, the hill of the skull. We act out the drama of Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. We consider what it all means.
I am always startled on Passion Sunday, taken aback as I enter the nave. Everything in the sanctuary is draped in purple – the six tall candlesticks, the tabernacle and altar, the crucifix, the sculpture of the Madonna and Child to the left. All that purple, all that draping of the physical and dear expressions of our faith, stun me each year, again and again. These shrouds of mourning remind me of a world without Christ, a world where we cannot know God, a world without God.
For it is only through Christ that we can know God, who he is, what he is like: just but merciful, a God of love. Because of the living, breathing, temples of God – we Christians, the Body of Christ – his Holy Spirit weaves through this world, through them, through us. Each one of us is a tabernacle holding Christ, depending on the space we have emptied for him. He lives in each of us. He in us; we in him.
As I look at Pope Francis, and recall his namesake, I see a man whose bodily tabernacle has been emptied of pride, of self, emptied so that God can fill him. And I see hope for all of Christendom in this man, in this temple of the Holy Spirit. I see hope for each of us.
And I know, although deeply and profoundly saddened by those purple drapings, that Easter is soon to come. For the Holy Spirit is moving among us.