Some Catholics have been upset at the speculation going on about the new Pope. This speculation, we’re told, goes against the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit will choose the next pope not you! You are not a cardinal!!”
Right. OK. I understand. However, this criticism betrays a lack of understanding in how the Holy Spirit works. The Spirit is not some sort of extraterrestrial who zooms down to whisper in the cardinals’ ears in the Sistine Chapel. The Holy Spirit works in and through and with the whole church–saints and sinners alike. The Holy Spirit infuses the whole church–all 1.2 billion Catholics. The speculation and discussion and interest is all part of the process. Some of it good and educated, some of it biased and bigoted, but all of it part of the fascinating and wonderful mix of the church.
Brandon Vogt has pointed out that Pope Benedict himself had this to say about the process. When he was asked, “Does the Holy Spirit choose the Pope?” he replied,
“I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope. … I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote.
At this stage it is legitimate for everyone to speak their mind, to discuss and debate. I agree that this process should not be a matter of campaigning for a particular candidate, nor should people make some vain attempt to influence the vote in any way. It would be impossible to do so even if we wanted to. In saying this, however, it is perfectly valid to discuss the different possibilities and envision a possible future, while still admitting that our ideas and visions of the future are just that–only one person’s opinion.
Most of all it is important that the cardinals themselves do their research, learn as much as they can about their brother cardinals, pray, pray, pray, and then get on that plane for Rome in hopeful and joyful anticipation. As they do this research, reading the press and hearing what the people of God are saying, and listening to what an unbelieving world is saying is one part of their listening process.
In a few weeks the cardinals will gather, and will be locked into the Sistine Chapel and the whole process will come to a climax and conclusion. Then we will have a new pope. At that point it is up to the faithful to thank God for his guidance and rally around the new pontiff with joy and hope for the future.