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 April 25, 2005 VOL. 43, NO. 8Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

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 here.

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 with you.

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.


Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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