Saturday, March 2, 2013


When the history of our era is written (assuming civilization survives sufficiently to write it and that there are enough literate readers to read it), one of the noteworthy cultural characteristics of our age will surely be our impatience. We are always in a rush. Modern transportation - the automobile and the airplane - were major factors in this, of course, followed then by all sorts of time-saving technology, enabling us to "concentrate" on many things at once and do them all with great rapidity. One consequence of all this is that we are able now to get our news almost instantaneously. From that, the next step has been an expectation that the news itself should happen faster. It used to take time for events to happen, for the news to reach us, for other actors to respond, etc. Now it all happens quickly, and we expect actors to respond quckly. Their responses, after all, are all now part of the show - now that speed has turned news into daily entertainment.
Against that background, the ancient ritual of the papal interregnum and conclave is taking place - at an altogether different rate of speed, derived from a different pace of life, and attuned to very different expectations. I must confess that (like lots of others, I suspect) I at first found it frustrating that the date for the conclave has not yet been set. After all, haven't the  cardinals all known since February 11 that this was coming? Surely the Princes of the Church could have gotten to Rome by now and been ready to hit the gorund running on March 1? Instead, their first meeting won't be until March 4, when (maybe) the date for the opening of the conclave will finally be set.
The length of time between the vacancy of the Apostolic See and the start of the conclave was lengthened in the 20th century as a consequence of the internationalizaiton of the Colege of Cardinals - to allow American cardinals, for exmaple, to cross the ocean and get there in time to participate. (No sooner had the interim period been extended than air travel came along to reduce the amount of time actually needed to get to Rome from almost anywhere!)
But, of course, there is more to it than that. There is merit in waiting, in taking time, in detaching from the rapid-fire "24/7" news cycle. Taking time gives the cardinals (especially those not based in Rome) a chance to get to know their fellow cardinals better and size up the potential popes in the group. It gives everyone involved time to pause and think - the very thing that our speeded-up contemporary lifestyle so strongly militates against our doing!
So take your time, Eminences! The world can wait as long as it takes, before we see the white smoke and hear Habemus Papam! And we'll all be better off for having taken the time that was needed.

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