By Christopher Gunty
The members of the College of Cardinals meet this week at the Vatican to hear about the state of the church. Essentially, it’s a large board of directors or a huge search committee looking at the challenges facing the organization as it chooses a new leader. They will look at the qualifications they believe the new leader must have in order to steer the barque of Peter on the continuing way of faith.
Organizations and corporations face this task regularly. Will the company keep the charism of the old leader, or forge ahead in new directions? What does it take to gain new followers – in essence, retain market share and create new brand awareness – and thrive in a global marketplace? The board faces an important task in finding the right person for the task.
The cardinals face an even more somber task, certainly one of more consequence than who will head Coca-Cola or Apple or General Motors. They are not concerned with tangible products and benefits to shareholders. Instead, they focus on matters of faith, morals and eternal life. They have history and tradition in mind, as they look to continue the long line of 265 popes over nearly two millennia. No corporation we know of has to be concerned about that kind of legacy.
Benedict XVI’s renunciation of the papacy creates a situation for the church unknown in six centuries. It could have thrown the church into dissension and chaos, but it did not, according to Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, archbishop emeritus of Baltimore, who will be one of the 115 cardinal electors to choose Benedict’s successor.
“When the pope announced his entrance into seclusion Feb. 11, it was a quite a prophetic act. He had no idea – none of us did – what the result of that would be,” the cardinal said March 1 via a phone interview from his office in Rome, where he is now grand master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. “There could have been total confusion, there could have been upset, there could have been divisions. But it was a great act of unity. He has to be given great credit.
“He has been so convinced that this is God’s will that he has been able to convince the rest of us too, which is a great sign of grace happening in the church. I think that grace will carry through,” Cardinal O’Brien said.
Invoking the Lord’s protection and focusing on the needs of the church, the cardinals will be guided by the Holy Spirit, but not directly. If the Spirit were to take over each cardinal’s hand as he writes the name of the one he believes will best lead the church, then there would be no need for more than one ballot. All the cardinals would write the same name underneath the words “Eligo in Summum Pontificem” (“I elect as Supreme Pontiff”).
Each man promises this: “I call as my witness Christ the Lord who will be my judge that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.” Because of the differences in their training, experience and culture, each may choose differently, but none would choose someone who would harm the church and the people of God.
While still a cardinal, Joseph Ratizinger said in a 1997 interview that the Holy Spirit does not “dictate the candidate for whom one must vote.”
“Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined,” the future Pope Benedict said.
The church of Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever, waits with hope but even more so with faith, that the new pope will take us where we need to go and to help us, as is written in the First Letter of John, “come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.”
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Copyright (c) March 8, 2013 CatholicReview.org