Since Benedict XVI left the office of the papacy, the Cardinals have been conferring with each other — both formally and informally — in almost daily meetings. In these meetings they have sought to take the pulse of the world — and of the Church.
Of course, the Cardinals have not been the only ones to do that in these days — both friends and foes have offered their take on the Church and the world. Some commentators have been well intentioned and thoughtful — others less so. Of course, now that the Conclave has begun the cardinals are not talking to anyone but themselves even while the pundits still give us their “conventional wisdom” on who are front runners and who are the dark horses. It is well to remember the Roman proverb: The Cardinal who goes into the Conclave as Pope usually emerges as just a Cardinal.
Of course, the cardinals are now sequestered — to use a word that has acquired a new meaning in U.S. political life. They cannot listen to the unsolicited advice offered by the world’s purveyors of the “conventional wisdom”. They don’t have to listen to those voices. But, as they know — and I suspect that it is a dreadful knowledge, one that inspires awe and at the same a holy fear — that, while they don’t have to listen to those voices, they do have to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. They will not follow the conventional wisdom of the Vatican watchers and the advocates of one cause or another. Rather, they must follow unconventional wisdom – which is of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit, of course, is the Paraclete or advocate of the faithful. And the Holy Spirit, who dwells within the Church making her the spotless Bride of Christ, always watches over the bark of Peter as it navigates the rough waters of this world on its pilgrim voyage to the Kingdom of God.
Many, of course, will try to read much into their deliberations in these next few days. And too many unfortunately will continue to interpret much of what they see or what they imagine they see through the prism of their own experiences with the world of power politics. But the College of Cardinals is more than just some party caucus. These men are the not power brokers that the media sometimes depicts them to be. They of course are men — which is to say, they are sinners to one degree or another like the rest of us; but, they are also men of prayer and of communion, that is to say, men of the Church.
The dealings of the Conclave — as the Cardinals vote to select a new Pope to lead the universal Church in the second decade of a new millennium — have little to do with the love of power but much to do with the power of love. They are not a Board of Directors looking to hire a new CEO of Vatican Inc. They are not looking for a hired man but for a shepherd, a shepherd who has the heart and mind of the Good Shepherd, himself. They are looking for a good shepherd who will lay down his life for the sheep.
Like Benedict XVI and John Paul II and the two hundred plus successors of St. Peter before them, the new Pope’s task will be to tend to and to feed the sheep. He will be entrusted to hand on the gospel in its entirety.
That is the Pope’s job — and really that is the task of each one of us who travel with him in the bark of Peter. The message of the gospel is entrusted to us to share with the world. It is not for us, or for any future Pope, to alter it to suit to the changing fashions of the world. And those who speculate that the election of a new Pope will bring changes to core Church teachings are sure to be disappointed. For, the challenge before the next Pope and each one of us who wish to follow Christ faithfully is not to change our faith but to live it and to allow it to change us.
We pray that the Holy Spirit will give the Cardinals wisdom — and also give them courage — for if they act with the wisdom and courage of the Holy Spirit, they will elect a pope who will be a man of wisdom and courage, a Pope who will be that good shepherd the Church and the World needs.
Thomas G. Wenski is the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Miami.