I made the mistake of reading media reports the morning Wednesday, March 13th. The Church was so divided and with no front-running candidate, that we should expect a long election for a new Pope. When white smoke began pouring out of the chimney that afternoon, I wondered if I would see a retraction printed the next day. The 115 Cardinal electors from all over the world were able to reach a two-thirds majority in a remarkably short time. Despite their obvious differences, this fact testifies to a deeper unity among the Cardinals and within the Catholic Church. It also reminds all of us that more is going on here than simply what meets the eye.
The Catholic Church is the world’s first and most successful muti-national, but it is also the oldest institution in the West and possibly the world. One might assume that when this venerable institution from yesteryear gathers its “old guys” in medieval scarlet garb to choose one of their own, who then comes out on a Renaissance balcony and waves at the crowd, another white head of this decrepit institution would simply not be news in today’s world. Scholars around the world have been predicting the Church’s demise for several centuries now. We are all told very clearly that young people are not interested, the old-fashioned teachings need to change, and scandals and corruption have irreparably tarnished “Holy Mother Church.” Yet the church has been able to say over and over again, “the rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” At 1,980 years young, the old girl is still full of surprises:
- A surprise resignation by Benedict XVI, the first in 600 years.
- A surprisingly quick election.
- A surprise “dark horse” candidate, often painted as an outsider.
- A surprise choice of the first non-European, first American, first Jesuit, and first named Francis.
- A surprisingly old Pope at 76 at a time when the world expected a younger man with “social media skills.”
- A surprisingly beautiful moment of first blessing.
What can we learn from all this? We can learn not to trust what the media says about the Church. The Church is not old, the Church is young. Did you see the faces of the people gathered at St. Peter’s square? They were all young, even the nuns! The Church is alive and well. Asia and Africa are accepting Christianity at amazing rates. The Church continues to be relevant because, despite 50 years of pressure from every side, her official teachings on important issues still haven’t changed. The new Pope shows no sign of changing them. Perhaps these teachings are true in a way that is not immediately obvious, just as the Church is united at a deeper level despite her obvious divisions. The “more going on here” is the presence of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.
One thing struck me when reviewing the media reports with a now more critical eye. Many reports and interviews said we needed a new pope who knew how to use Twitter and Facebook to reach the younger generation that was falling away. That’s not the Pope’s job — that’s our job! The Pope needs to be a good Christian who can show us how to be good Christians. Every Christian is called to know what we believe, follow faithfully, and introduce others to Jesus. If the remaining 1.2 billion Catholics all over the world refuse to do their job, how is the one Pope going to get it done? We expect great things from this Pope. We should expect no less from ourselves. Each and every one of us must be a witness to Jesus Christ and the power of God the Father. As a proud family of 1.2 billion, we can loudly proclaim to the world: Habemus Papam!