This morning as I watched the Mass to open the Conclave live on EWTN, I was struck by what commentator Father Raymond de Souza said, this is the job nobody wants.
This was in the context of Colleen Carroll Campbell stating that for North Americans, primarily those of us in the US, we are casting this like our political elections. To which Father de Souza replied, “except nobody wants this job.” And how right he is. He went on to explain how the Cardinals had watched John Paul II’s last days and how Benedict had resigned as he admitted he was no longer able to keep up the schedule and duties of the Pontiff. And how Cardinals Wojtyla and Ratzinger were both advised NOT to turn down the Papacy if their name came up. Have you EVER heard of a politician at any level of government being told that here?
And then there was this gem:
which appeared shortly after the Black Smoke of the First Vote. And probably, many Americans believe this is how it works. But, it’s not.
It seems so foreign in American culture to not want to attain the highest post you can in your job, your community, an organization. But that’s because being Pope isn’t like being a CEO or president or chair of a committee in one crucial way. Being Pope means being a servant. While there is power, there is much greater responsibility. First and foremost, a Pope is the servant of God. He is also the servant of the Church. This life of servitude demands sacrifices we cannot comprehend of fully unless we are in that role but which are greater than any political figure or CEO could conceive of. Becoming the Pope means a man will kiss the cross of having the weight of the Catholic Church and God’s expectations on him.
But most Americans cannot reconcile that with what our secular world has taught us will bring true happiness. Money, fame, success, is what they preach and they therefore attempt to cast the chair of St Peter in that way as well. And so, of course, the media will play up the drama of the “vote” as if campaigning were the blood sport grab at power it is in politicis as usual here.
But the Church is not of our culture. Thanks be to God, it is counter-cultural. We know that true happiness comes not from material trappings, but from a life of surrender to Christ. True freedom is found only when we submit ourselves to His will. Which is what the next Pope will do. He will submit to the will of the Holy Spirit and carry that cross with joy. To be a servant of Christ is a truly awesome joy but an awesome responsibility as well. There are no sick days. There is no time when you can take off that hat the way you can in every single other profession in this world. And entering the priesthood is not a stepping stone to becoming Pontiff. It is difficult through our cultural eyes to understand but once we embrace the counter-culture of the Church, once we become no longer of this world, we can embrace that notion.
When we look at the College of Cardinals, we see in one of those faces, our next Holy Father. We see the man who will continue to lead the Church in the long succession begun by Peter. We see the one who says, “Yes Lord, here I am.” And who takes upon himself the Cross of leading us toward our reunion with our eternal Father by example. Yes, you could argue he reached the top of his profession, but His success is not of this world. And his reward is not found in it.