Eight years ago, we lost someone who was probably one of the greatest modern advocates for Catholicism. He was wise, he was charismatic, he was traditional. At least to me, he made orthodoxy seem not only appealing, but also necessary. And we all grieved terribly at his death. Of course, I'm talking about Blessed Pope John Paul the Great.
But, a few short days after his death, we were filled with a kind of wild hope and joy, like always after the death of a pope, there was to be a conclave. The first in 26 years, the first in my lifetime. I was 20 at the time. I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when the conclave concluded.
I was in my dormroom eating lunch between classes: French and algebra, if I remember correctly. CNN was playing on the TV and they were interspersing clips of the anchors with images of the faithful gathered near the Sistine Chapel and the chapel's chimney. Then, suddenly, the started saying the two magic words, "white smoke." My heart jumped up into my chest. Then it was confirmed. White smoke, habemus papam.
My brother was studying in Pennsylvania at the time and we were on AIM talking about what was going on. We were several hundred miles apart, but we sat together and started at the TV waiting for the announcement. Then on the balcony the cardinals appeared and announced, yes, we have a pope: Cardinal Ratzinger. And the Piazza San Pietro went nuts. And I went to algebra.
Here we are eight years later at a different kind of crossroads. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, through prayer and careful thought, has concluded that he is no longer fit to occupy the Throne of Peter. At the end of this month he will no longer be our Holy Father.
This is an incredibly unusual occurance. We actually know, down to the hour how much longer our pope will be our pope. I can only imagine what the college of cardinals must be thinking. How strange to be in this place.
Like everyone else in the world, yesterday I was shocked. And deeply saddened. Seriously, you only have to ask some of my coworkers to find out how close to tears I was. But they let me talk about it and they made me laugh.
And thankfully, the sun came up today, and while we enjoy the last few days of Pope Benedict XVI's reign we can look forward again to a conclave. There will be speculation about the successor, but thankfully, only 118 men will get to vote. They who know the church best, they who love us and want what is best for us and for the church.
All we have to do is look to Christ and His Holy Mother and pray. Pray for Pope Benedict, pray for the college of cardinals, pray for the church, and pray for each other. What a wonderful thought to take into Lent.