One among many stunning features of the papal conclave I can't help noting with awe and gratitude is the harmonious marriage of antiquity and modernity it represents. I mean, you've got people all over the world watching for smoke signals from the Cistine Chapel on their TVs and laptops and iPhones. Think about that.
You have the sacred oath of secrecy and you have the electronic sweeps to make sure there are no hidden listening devices. You have remarkable, highly-educated and accomplished men of our own day and age, from all races and cultures and continents, appearing in those black robes with red sashes and gold crosses that have been worn for centuries. They are praying prayers and participating in rites that go still further back in time. Then they emerge to talk congenially with the media.
Jim Geraghty captures the wonder of it today in his Morning Jolt.
One aspect of all this that I think resonates deeply, well beyond the boundaries of Catholicism, is the experience of witnessing an institution that follows tradition going back two millennia.
We live in a world in which newer is considered better than older, and the definition of "old" seems to get younger every year.
...The older generation passes away, old friends move away and we lose touch. A time and a place, a mood and relationships, preserved only in a dusty photo album full of Polaroids....
And then, in the middle of all this, there's the Vatican and the cardinals. Somehow they combine immense theatricality — there's a reason that all of the networks have sent their anchors to do live shots from St. Peter's Square — with a methodology that is from another time and place. They don't issue a press release, they don't release a YouTube video, or send a tweet. All around the world, people watch for smoke from a chimney.
To me, this is a striking strand of evidence for the divine origins of Catholicism—one strand in the cord that twists into the spiritual rope that moors the mind to sacred Truth. Nothing merely human (never mind random material processes) can account for this degree of uninventable wonderfulness—this combination of simplicity and grandeur, old and new, spiritual and material, religious and political. Could a man-made scheme be at once so firmly rooted in the past and so thoroughly alive and at ease in the modern world? Doesn't it take something superhumanly great to draw the attention and engage the interest and inspire the admiration of high and low, young and old, male and female, brilliant and dull, the whole world over?
I get tears just thinking about the Room of Tears. The man who will be Pope goes into it, in a way, to die. His life as a private individual is over forever. He belongs now to the Church. So, he mourns. He weeps, too, because he feels how far beyond his power his task is. And yet, He trusts God to supply whatever is lacking in himself.
A person could be moved to conversion just by contemplating the titles of the Pope: "Chair of Peter", "Bishop of Rome", "Holy Father", "Vicar of Christ on Earth", "Servant of the Servants of God."
And meanwhile, while he shoulders the heavy burden he's been given, uttering with his own lips the same words Jesus' Mother Mary said to the angel who brought her unique mission in salvation history: "Be it done unto me according to Your Word," and that Jesus said in the garden, "Not my will, but Yours be done," outside in the Square the world will be gathering, and a great wave of affection and joy will be cresting, ready to break over his head when we hear those ancient words, "Habemus Papam!" He knows our love and faith and prayers, and the grace of God they convey, will give him all he needs and more to accomplish the Petrine Ministry for the Church and the world in our day in history, at this moment in time.
If only our hearts and minds were large and open and purified enough to take in what is happening right before our world-weary eyes!