Holy What?!

Cardinals attend a Mass in the St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Monday, April 18, 2005, as the cardinals who will elect a new Pope made their last public appearance before sequestering themselves inside the Sistine Chapel later in the day. AP

This column was written by Michael Novak.
On TV these days, you hear Catholic after Catholic putting "trust" in the choice of the "Holy Spirit" as to which cardinal will become the next pope.What on earth are they talking about?

Jesus Christ said that He Himself was one with the Father -- that is, the Lord and Creator of all things -- and asserted thereby that we ought not to think of God as a cold, solitary, lonely Nous or Mind, in the manner of the Greeks, but rather as at least a Communion of Two, Father and Son who are one, one in will, one in mind, one in substance. More than that, He said that the Father would send His Spirit, to be with the Church (the people formed by their loyalty to Christ) forever, and that Father, Son, and Spirit are one. God is the Communion of Three Persons.

This is a flat arithmetical contradiction. How can three be one? Or one, three?

Nonetheless, it is what we believe Jesus said. And meant.

For us, it is as though we ought to imagine that the most divine realities in our lives are our moments of closest communion, with our spouses (our best friends), our children, our larger families, and our friends and associates (our comrades in war, for instance, or in team sports; or our best buddies and confidants). God is more like a communion of persons, than like a pure sunburst of insight or an abstract idea. Of course, no one sees God. None of us has an adequate idea. But this, at least, is how Jesus told Christians to approach God: "Where you are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of you." Communion of persons. Silent. Joined in one will, in mutual love, deeper than image or thought.

Men Work, Too
This is all pretty abstract. So, as Americans, let's get down to the practicalities as soon as possible. In Rome last week, I told one of my friends, "I will be perfectly satisfied with whichever cardinal the Holy Spirit picks out. I certainly never thought of Wojtyla in 1978," I concluded, I thought triumphantly.

My friend brought me up short. "The Holy Spirit will do nothing except through human agency and human work. So somebody better get busy and start organizing things." We were a little worried about the lack of any signs that this was, at that point, being done.

I later talked to several cardinals, old friends from the long-ago past (in my days in the seminary decades ago, I crossed paths with a few of them, and met others during my days as a journalist at Vatican II). One of them mentioned casually -- we both avoided any politicking or even discussions of who is doing what -- that he had already attended lunch that day with seven or eight cardinals, and would have dinner with seven or eight others, and it was like this every day. He hoped to continue and meet with a lot of them before the conclave.

He didn't say, but I can imagine that all of these conversationalists are watching the others very closely at these meals, and in their general meetings; and that those 20 or so among them who sense some probability of being named themselves are allowing themselves to be as well-spoken and thoughtful as their gifts permit, putting their best and most prudent (which may mean bold and daring) foot forward, as never before. Now is the time to act like a pope; more exactly, to be like a pope. If that is what others are to see, someone must let it shine forth.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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