“WANTED: CEO of largest international institution in the world, 60+ and in excellent health, must be perpetually on stage and fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English, several other languages desirable, must have pastoral experience and also be excellent administrator, diplomatic skills essential, large-group charisma and small-group people skills absolutely required, must be deeply spiritual and suitable for canonization after death.”
To hear people talk – especially in the media – all of that (and more) may be required of the next pope. Of course, different constituencies have different wants and would rank the above qualities in various ways. Many –“not a few,” as they say in Rome – have not been shy about articulating those wants and rankings! “Frankly, if there is to be outside pressure on the cardinals,” blogged Michael Sean Winters the other day, “I would rather go back to the days when it was the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons exercising such pressure than to let single issue advocacy groups do so” (“Distinctly Catholic,” March 8, 2013).
Well, whatever is to be said has probably by now been said. In some 24 hours, the 115 Eminent Lord Cardinal-electors will walk in solemn procession into the Sistine Chapel, where they will swear yet another oath, hear yet another exhortation, and then be locked up until at least 2/3 of them agree on the next Successor of St. Peter and Vicar of Christ on earth. If being pope is a daunting job, daunting too must be the awesome responsibility of the electors. Having internalized whatever information they have learned in the General Congregations and informal prattiche, and having processed what they have heard and seen since February 11 through the filter of their varied experiences of Church, the Cardinals will each now cast his vote alone before the altar of God – the seriousness of his responsibility before God and for the Church highlighted by Michelangelo’s awesome fresco of the Last Judgment staring down on him.
Like any pastor, the pope must take seriously the administrative and organizational dimension of his office. But the pope is not a CEO, nor is the Church a corporation. As the Body of Christ, the Church is gloriously gifted in so many respects, an oasis of grace in the world’s desert, the word of God for the world to hear, the face of Christ for the world to see. Still, its members remain frail and wounded. Wounded for sure by the onslaughts of the world, the Church is as much or even more wounded by the sins of its members, who pray this week that this challenging time of testing may also serve as a time of purification for each of us, for the Church as a whole, and for the world. Perhaps Pope Benedict may have had something like that in mind when he timed his retirement to coincide with Lent?
Tomorrow, as the Cardinals enter the conclave, may the entire Church be united with them, praying with them and for them. Peter’s job description was more succinct than the one above, but said it all – Disciple and Apostle, Fisherman and Shepherd..