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Holy Spirit's Role in the Election of a Pope

Interview With Father Paul O'Callaghan

ROME, APRIL 19, 2005 (Zenit) - Watching news reports on the conclave, many Catholics are asking themselves: Who is the Holy Spirit and what is his role in the conclave?

We asked Father Paul O'Callaghan, dean of the Faculty of Theology of the University of the Holy Cross, to talk about the main protagonist of the conclave.

Q: So many are calling on the Holy Spirit these days. Do you think that he is invoked only in very important moments?

Father O'Callaghan: I am convinced the Holy Spirit is active always in the Church and the world, and has been so in a singular way over recent weeks. When John Paul II attempted to speak at the "urbi et orbi" blessing on Easter morning, Paul's words to the Romans came to mind: "The Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words."

Watching the enormous multitudes patiently waiting their turn to catch a fleeting glance at the body of the Pope laid out in St. Peter's Basilica, I was struck by the fact that they did so under no constraint whatsoever, simply because they wanted to do so: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." With patience and good manners: "God's love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit."

Seeing the many who joyfully received the sacrament of reconciliation, Jesus' words come naturally to mind: "Receive the Holy Spirit, if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven."

And of course, looking at the extraordinary variety among the mourners, it was easy to think of the Acts of the Apostles, often called the Gospel of Holy Spirit: "Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia." There was wondrous variety, but only "one Spirit."

It is true that Christians, generally speaking, invoke the Holy Spirit on special occasions. Whether they do so or not, however, the Holy Spirit acts always: powerfully, incisively, silently, inspiring prayer, freedom, love, conversion, variety, unity. And there is no reason to think that the Spirit will not act during the days coming up to the conclave and during the conclave itself. With an important proviso, however.

The effectiveness of the Spirit's action depends on human collaboration, intelligence and effort. And we humans are perfectly capable of resisting the Spirit, of saddening the Spirit.

The cardinal electors are by no means exonerated from reflecting deeply on all the implications of the momentous decision they are called to make. John Paul II, in his 1986 encyclical, "Dominum et Vivificantem," spoke of the Spirit that purifies the world of sin. It is clear that the Spirit brings believers to overcome the "spirit of the world."

And in "Universi Dominici Gregis" he wrote: "I earnestly exhort the cardinal electors not to allow themselves to be guided, in choosing the Pope, by friendship or aversion, or to be influenced by favor or personal relationships towards anyone, or to be constrained by the interference of persons in authority or by pressure groups, by the suggestions of the mass media, or by force, fear or the pursuit of popularity. Rather, having before their eyes solely the glory of God and the good of the Church, and having prayed for divine assistance, they shall give their vote to the person, even outside the College of Cardinals, who in their judgment is most suited to govern the universal Church in a fruitful and beneficial way."

Nor may the rest of the faithful remain passive. When St. Peter was in prison, we are told in the Acts of the Apostles, "earnest prayer for him was made to God by the Church." Through persevering prayer all Christians partake very directly in the election of the new Pope.

Indeed many of those who pray assiduously these days will perceive the conclave as a truly "democratic" event. In a sense, Christians will have the Pope they deserve.

Nonetheless, we should implore God in his mercy to give us not just the Pope we deserve, but the one our world really needs, racked as it is by strife and despair and disbelief. As we read at Mass, "Look not at our sins, but on the faith of your Church."

Q: Why is the Holy Spirit associated with the conclave and not also the Trinitarian figure of the Father and the Son?

Father O'Callaghan: It is quite clear that the action of the Holy Spirit is none other than that of the Father and the Son. Three Persons, One Being: that is the mystery of the Trinity. The Father acts through the Son in the Holy Spirit.

However, from the morning of Pentecost onwards, Christians were convinced that the Church is a living organism driven by the Holy Spirit. It makes sense that special moments throughout its earthly pilgrimage would experience the consoling and strengthening power of the Spirit. When the Council of Jerusalem was celebrated, for ...

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