Friday, February 22, 2013

Who Will Fill the Vacant Chair?

This is not St. Peter's chair. This is my chair. It is never infallible,
ever. He who sits in it is assured of only two things: (1) frequently
falling asleep; (2) being climbed on by a child, without warning!
Happy Feast of the Chair of St. Peter...the chair that will soon be vacant! Its interesting that we commemorate today the unique episcopal office exercised by the Bishop of Rome, even as we prepare to witness an historically unprecedented change in that office. Benedict is leaving in less than a week! I'm sure that the final words and gestures of his papacy will enable our hearts to grow, even as we endure them in sorrow.

Meanwhile it is only human to wonder, "Who will succeed him?"

Yes, the conclave drama has captivated me. I'm reading about cardinals (and there are a lot of really, really good ones). My conclusion? I have no idea who next pope will be. Not a clue. 

And I'm okay with that. God is good. He will take care of His Church.

The wonderful Cardinal Arinze from Nigeria, who worked many years in the Roman curia, has helped me keep perspective. He gave a recent video interview, in which he said, with his expressive face and lovely Nigerian English enunciation: "Don't Worry! The Holy Spirit does not go on holidays!" [You can find it on YouTube...I should try to update this later with a link! :)]

The Janaros with Cardinal Arinze, 2004.
Really, this picture is fun because of the
size of the kids. Look at John Paul, haha!
He'd be a great pope. But he's 80 years old. He won't even be in the conclave. Ah, too bad.

Cardinal Arinze participated in a conference at our college in 2004. As theology department chairman, I shared in the task of welcoming him, and we were seated together at the conference. I gave him a copy of a draft of an article about John Paul II that I was working on (eventually published in 2006).

There were a couple of hours of break in the afternoon. I assumed he'd go take a nap. Instead, he read my paper. At the dinner banquet, he came to the table and his face was all bright and beaming. "I read your paper," he said to me. "Its wonderful! You are an 'expert' on the Pope." Well, that was encouraging, even though it was not deserved. I am a student of John Paul II, but not an expert.

I haven't spoken with him since then, although he has come back to Front Royal many times. He has participated in various college and graduate school events. He's even played tennis on the tennis courts. Cardinal Arinze pops up all the time, it seems. I haven't run into him at K-Mart yet, but if I ever do, I won't be surprised!

He was just here less than a month ago, participating in a conference of Catholic college presidents (he strongly supports the "alternative" Catholic colleges and schools, because they are faithful to the teachings of the Church; I'm sure it also helps that, as an African bishop, he has an appreciation of what it takes to build institutions from scratch).

While he was in town, he said Mass and met with the students of Chelsea academy. The little boy in the picture on the right, who is now as tall as the Cardinal, asked the first question. My son! :)

Cardinal Arinze is wise and learned, but very down to earth, with joy, a great sense of humor (really, he's hilarious), and tons of common sense. He loves Jesus, and he loves the Church, with intelligence and simplicity.

The younger cardinals from the developing world have a similar sensibility. They radiate the faith and love, the strength and the struggles of their churches. That doesn't mean that its "time" for an African pope or an Asian pope, etc., etc. Who knows?

God knows. Maybe it will be the most obscure and unaccomplished cardinal in the conclave. Whoever he is, the next pope will be the successor of St. Peter and occupy his chair. He will be responsible for keeping everyone focused on the reality of Christian faith and life. The successor of St. Peter will be concerned with fostering and preserving the opportunity for everyone to share in Peter's confession of faith, which is at its core the recognition of and relationship with a Person.

Conclaves, popes, cardinals, bishops are instruments and servants of the grace that comes from the Father, the grace that enables you and me to meet Jesus today, and to recognize who He is, to cry out with faith and love, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!"