Fr. Roger J. Landry
Conclave Series for the New Bedford Standard Times
March 6, 2013
It’s normally during Advent, the four-week preparation for Christmas, that Catholics across the world are accustomed to focus on hope-filled waiting.
But Catholics are now in an unaccustomed period of impatient expectation in Lent, as together with the Cardinals assembled in Rome, we impatiently wait until the Conclave date is determined and the process of electing a new Pope begins in earnest.
Just as in early December it’s tempting to give Advent lip service, and just set up the tree, arrange the manger, put up lights, and start having Christmas parties, so it’s perhaps even more alluring now to skip this period of preparation and just get on to the main event.
But just as study for scholars and practice for athletes impact how they subsequently fulfill their duties in the exam room or under the lights, so this period of preparation is key for the Cardinals to discharge their duties well when they eventually enter the Sistine Chapel.
What are the papal electors doing now in cardinalatial training camp? Essentially four things.
First, they’re praying. As many Cardinals have already stated publicly, they believe their essential task is to identify and vote for the man whom God has already chosen to be the next pope. That requires patient, prayerful discernment, as they seek to fulfill God’s will, not their own.
When they eventually start the process of voting and have to walk toward Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel to submit their ballot, they will swear aloud an oath saying, “I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.”
So they’re preparing essentially not to vote their human preferences — for example, for a friend or fellow countryman, or against someone because of personal history — but for the one whom in conversation with God they believe ought to be chosen. That’s why prayer is first on their agenda.
Prayerful deliberation, however, doesn’t occur only in chapels and churches. It also happens via laptops and iPads. The second important preparatory work the Cardinals are doing is research on the other cardinals.
The vast majority of the Cardinals are just friendly acquaintances. They’ve run into each other at various international Church events, shared meals together, and occasionally heard the others speak. But while up until now they may have considered someone impressively intelligent or engagingly humorous, now they’re looking at each other with different lenses, sizing up whether a man is capable of being Pope.
Many of the cardinals are doing their homework, using the internet to find out more about each other, perusing their books, articles, speeches and homilies, and conferring with those who may know intriguing candidates better than they do.
Third, they’re getting together with each other informally in restaurants, cafes, seminaries and apartments — called in Italian prattiche, for “exercises — listening to how each other frames the problems the Church is facing and sketches attempted solutions. This is the closest thing to genuine politicking that takes place.
Finally, they’re meeting formally in meetings each day — called Congregations — in which all the cardinals are given the opportunity to give brief speeches about the priorities they think the Church should have in the next pontificate. These are opportunities for some to shine, for others to fade and for all to learn and listen.
The clearer the priorities and challenges for the next pontificate become, the easier it will be to identify the cardinal who as Pope might best meet them.
What are the major challenges and priorities the Cardinals are now pondering in their individual and collective discernment? We’ll take that up tomorrow.