What Michelangelo Teaches the Cardinals, New Bedford Standard Times, March 13, 2013

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Conclave Series for the New Bedford Standard Times
March 13, 2013

Yesterday the Cardinals entered the Sistine Chapel to begin their Conclave. The first vote yesterday afternoon, as predicted, produced black smoke, indicating that none of the Cardinals received the required two-thirds majority to be elected pope.

Today they will have will have two votes in the morning and two in the afternoon, and so it will continue through Friday until someone receives 77 votes.

If no one is elected after these first 13 ballots, the Cardinals will pause for a day of prayer and reconvene on Sunday for up to seven ballots through Monday. If still someone hasn’t come out on the balcony, they will pray on Tuesday and conduct up to seven more ballots next Wednesday and Thursday. If that doesn’t produce white smoke, there will have another day of prayer and then up to seven more ballots over two days of voting a week from Saturday and Sunday.

If still then we haven’t heard the joyful words “Habemus papam” after these 34 ballots, then the rules change. Beginning March 26, the two candidates with the most votes will have a run off every ballot thereafter until one receives the necessary two-thirds majority.

There are several commentators who are predicting that we might get to the first pause after 13 ballots, but no one thinks we’ll get to the second after 20.

Most cardinals have begun by voting for the person they believe would be the “best” pope, but over time the election will be between those they likely consider “better” and “good.” Hence no matter who comes out on the balcony, while it’s probable that the person was not their first choice, most cardinals will be happy with him.

And they will entrust him, Catholics believe, with the “keys of the kingdom of heaven.” This is a reference to St. Matthew’s Gospel, in which Jesus said he was giving to Peter the power to bind and loose on heaven and earth. Catholics believe that spiritual authority rests in Peter’s successors as bishop of Rome.

Earlier in this series I mentioned that the word conclave means “with the key” and refers principally to the fact that the cardinals are locked in the Sistine Chapel while the votes are taking place.

But there is a second meaning to this phrase that points to the Cardinals’ essential responsibility in the conclave, to determine to whom to pass the authority of these “keys.”

Pope John Paul II pointed to this responsibility in a powerful 2003 poem on the Sistine Chapel. He wrote that it is within the “marvelous Sistine profusion of color that the Cardinals gather, a community responsible for the legacy of the keys of the Kingdom.”

There Michelangelo “wraps them in his vision,” he continued, a vision he said that “must speak to them.” The word conclave, he says, points to how they share with each other and with the one to be elected a “joint concern for the legacy of the keys of the Kingdom.”

John Paul emphasized that Michelangelo, in painting Adam nude in the famous scene of Creation on the vault and painting Christ and most of the figures nude in the Last Judgment, taught the Cardinals (with the words of Hebrews 4:13) that “everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must render an account,” namely, God.

Michelangelo reminded the Cardinals, John Paul II stressed, that everything they do is before God, and should call them to cry out in prayer, “You who see all, point to him!,” confident that God himself will reveal the one whom he wants to guide the Church.

Catholics throughout the world are praying today that the Cardinals, wrapped in Michelangelo’s vision, will see that appointed man and with him come out on the balcony of St. Peter’s to point him out to us all.