With just a few hours left till 115 holy men garbed in crimson will lock themselves up in probably the most historical and currently most watched chapel in the world, the question that must be asked of every believer surfaces and lingers in the air: Are you ready for Conclave?
Me? I’m not a cardinal, what do I need to prepare for? It’s not like I’m casting a ballot or anything.
Of course I’m ready! The sleeping bags and pillows are on deck in front of the TV, I’ve got my microwave popcorn stocked up, I’m already tuned in on the Vatican news coverage this early. As soon as that white smoke billows out the chimney, my gadgets are charged and ready for my Facebook and Twitter frenzy. Habemus papam!!
While the duty to elect a pope lies on the shoulders of the College of Cardinals, this period of waiting, praying and celebrating belongs to all of the faithful. In my 34 years of existence, this is only the 2nd conclave I’ve lived to see. And as I was airborne during my 1st one in 2005, this is my first real chance to dive into this beautiful, holy tradition.
So what can we do? Quite simply, we can join the Cardinals, and the rest of Church, in a solemn spirit of prayer.
Last night, I caught a discussion being aired over EWTN about the preparations for Conclave. Some of the more interesting details that I learned included the availability of confessors for the Cardinals throughout the process. And for sure, put together 115 Cardinals in a room, you can be certain that the Eucharist is celebrated. With such a monumental task ahead of them, the Cardinals realize with humility that they will need all the help they can get. So they turn to the sacraments which, according to the Diary of St. Faustina of the Divine Mercy, possess infinite value as miracles of mercy. As if pleading in behalf of the whole universal Church, the Cardinals are praying “Lord, have mercy on us,” teach us, guide us, be with us, as we take on this task of choosing the Vicar of Christ. If you haven’t yet for this Lenten season, go to confession. And try your best to go to mass in the coming days. I don’t doubt that these acts of unity with the Church will ready our hearts to rejoice when the new Pope steps out onto that balcony.
Another detail that surprised me about the Conclave was that the actual casting of ballots was to be conducted mostly in silence. All speeches, discussions and points to raise have been said during the pre-conclave meetings. And now, having already heard what human lips have to say, it is time to listen intently to what the Spirit’s still, small voice is whispering to each heart. As much as we can, let us join in this spirit of silence as well–not so much by ignoring all those trying to converse with us, but to maintain an atmosphere of prayerful silence every chance we get: turning off the radio while stuck in traffic, perhaps even lessening the amount of “idle” surfing on the net. The less we let in from the noisy, busy world around us, the more room our inner self has to be filled with grace.
And if we were to bring emptying ourselves even further, I would make this suggestion: start a fast. Allow yourself to feel that hunger and dependence on God (with regards to this election, and with everything else) not just internally, but physically as well. Just as any bride and groom who ritually avoided seeing each other right before their wedding day will testify how absence does make the heart grow fonder, after all this you can certainly look forward to a feast in every possible sense of the word.
All of the above–sacraments, silence and fasting–are ways and means to equip us for what we all really should be doing: prayer. To pray for the Cardinals, that they may approach the Conclave with humble, reverent, listening hearts, that they may be protected from all physical and spiritual harm. To pray for the Church, that we may put aside whatever agendas or personal hopes we have, and raise above everything else God’s hope for us. To pray, just as Jesus did, that we may all be one as He is with the Father. To pray for the new pope, whoever he may be, that he may embrace this call to be servant to the servants of God.
With just a few hours left, prepare yourself to watch and wait with our whole Catholic family. Beg for grace, be silent, be hungry, and pray. And be part of the rejoicing that is imminently to come on earth, as in Heaven.