By Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
I write this as the conclave to elect our Holy Father is being planned. We may soon have a pope. Even for those without any Latin background and those not Catholic, the phrase Habemus Papam and the white smoke are very familiar.
At this moment, my mood is both unsettled and prayerful. I have come to terms with the stepping down of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. I have deep affection and admiration for him and deep gratitude that he was elected almost eight years ago. All but five years of my 41 years of priestly service have been with him and his blessed predecessor, John Paul II, as the Vicars of Christ.
How consistent Pope Benedict has been in these eight years as Holy Father. Though recognized for his brilliant intellect and deep humility, his pastoral sensitivity and loving heart have been revealed to the world over these eight years and in the midst of great challenges to the Church.
I remember well his visit to the United States in 2008 and the moving Eucharistic celebration at the old Yankee Stadium (the last non-baseball event in the old stadium before they moved into the new one next door). He joined us to celebrate the 1808 founding of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and its four newly created suffragan dioceses — Bardstown, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. At this event, we uncovered our roots and prayed for new ardor to move into the third millennium. It was a wonderful celebration.
Now the spotlight is on the 115 cardinals in Rome, charged with the task of discerning and electing the new pope. Naturally, as in the past, the pundits try to predict the outcome. Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia summed it up well when he said that Catholics with deep faith will welcome the new pope, and those seeking a particular winner, for whatever their cause might be, will likely experience disappointment.
I will be among those welcoming, and so these days have been times of prayer in gratitude for Pope Emeritus Benedict, for the cardinals’ wisdom, and for the future pope’s serene confidence in the Lord Jesus.
Thus, I have been praying as I thank God for the charism of authority given by Christ to his Church. In my prayer, two verses from the Gospel according to St. Matthew continue to surface. These verses focus on the great promise of Jesus for his Church. The first, very familiar to us all, comes from Matthew 16:18 in which Jesus, having witnessed the great and humble act of faith by St. Peter, says: “And so I say unto you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
Then, at the very end of the Gospel, there is what has become known as the great commission: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.” And then Matthew 28:20: “And behold, I am with you always until the end of the ages.”
Pope Benedict had a strong but humble confidence in this great promise of Jesus. After all, his first words after his election were: “I am a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.” He now calls himself a “simple pilgrim in prayer” and shares a great quote from the theologian so formative in his life, Romano Guardini. Commenting on Vatican II’s Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Guardini says: “The Church is not an institution conceived and built in theory… but a living reality. She lives through the course of time, in becoming, like every living being, in undergoing change. And yet in her nature she remains ever the same and her heart is Christ.”
The Church is the Church of Jesus Christ. It is his, and he promised to be with us. Together we take this promise to prayer as we await news of our Holy Father.