Through our prayers, we shared in selection of the pope
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
My heartfelt expectation is that by the time you read this message from
me we will be thanking God for the election of our new pope. Clearly,
since there is no way I can foresee who that will be or the exact circumstances
of his election as I file this column, I can’t comment on such things
What I do want to reflect upon with you is the mystery of grace that lies
at the heart of this event.
By the time we see the pictures of our new Holy Father on the balcony
of St. Peter’s Basilica, we will have heard a torrent of analysis
and explanation about who he is and how he got there. Some of this commentary
is far off the mark, some of it is insightful as far as it goes, but seldom
if ever do we think about what is really and most profoundly at work in
the election of a new pope. It’s about that I want to reflect on
The fact that there is so much more to a papal election than “meets
the eye” of media pundits was brought home to me very powerfully
when I read this observation which Pope John Paul II made in the set of
norms governing the conclave: Because the universal Church perseveres
with one heart in prayer for the gift of a worthy pope, “the election
of the new pope will not be something unconnected with the People of God
and concerning the [cardinals] alone, but will be in a certain sense an
act of the whole Church” (Universi dominici gregis, n. 84).
Think about that again: Because we have all been united in prayer with
the cardinals in the conclave, the election of the pope is the act of
us all! Yes, the cardinals will have played their own particular roles
– deliberating, casting ballots, etc., but we all had a part in
choosing the pope because we all shared in his selection through our prayers.
This point will certainly not get much notice in the news, but it’s
the one that should be at the center of our own effort to understand what
transpires in a conclave.
This sense that by our prayers we all have a part in electing the new
pope is based on the conviction that the naming of the pope is the fruit
of prayer. The People of God fervently ask for a good shepherd to fill
the office of St. Peter for our faith family, and the Lord, by the marvelous
working out of his design, answers us in a way often beyond our expectations.
The cardinals are his instruments, but the Holy Spirit is the one who
acts through them.
By our prayers we seek to gain for the cardinals who do the balloting
the graces they need from God in order to discern his will. This is part
of what we mean of the “communion of saints” – all the
baptized share the good fruit that comes from the spiritual gifts and
good works that belong to each of us individually.
For example, the suffering of a terminal cancer patient which she united
with Christ’s cross and offered so that the cardinals would have
the Holy Spirit’s light is a grace she won and which they enjoy.
That kind of sacrificial prayer made possible the election of the pope.
Such prayers from all of us helped in the choosing of the pope.
The prayers that drive and support the process of electing the new pope
are only the beginning. Every day let us all pray for the “one God
gives us to serve as vicar of Christ and successor of St. Peter”
– father and shepherd of the universal Church.