Countdown to the Conclave, Day 10: Construction in the Sistine Chapel Points to the Work of the Next Pope
A hopeful church gathers in prayer. A watchful world speculates
The image of the workmen engaged in the physical work of preparation in the Sistine Chapel points to the extensive work of rebuilding the next Pope must undertake. We live in a time of shaking in both the world and the Church. However, Christians need not be afraid. Our life together in the Church is a place of shelter, not only for us, but for all who seek real stability as the shaking continues all around. The next occupant of the Chair of Peter has construction and infrastructure work to do.
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - The last Cardinal-Elector, Vietnamese Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man, arrived in Rome on Thursday, March 7, 2013. He participated in the sixth General Congregation. Fr Frederico Lombardi emphasized to an eager press, groping for any news, that no date had yet been set for the official beginning of the Conclave.
Journalists watched a film which showed the extensive preparation being done on the Sistine Chapel in preparation for the conclave. It includes structural adjustments to support the chairs, podiums and tables needed for the Cardinal electors. In addition, workmen are covering the windows to the ancient chapel and working on the chimney through which the world will learn when and if a Pope has been elected.
The image of the workmen engaged in the physical work of preparation in the Sistine Chapel points to the extensive work of rebuilding the next Pope must undertake. We live in a time of shaking in both the world and the Church. However, Christians need not be afraid. Our life together in the Church is a place of shelter, not only for us, but for all who seek real stability as the shaking continues all around.
The shaking within the Church is for her purification, fortification and reform. It will make her stronger and enable her to continue the mission which she has been assigned by her head. The Apostle Peter reminded the early Christians undergoing persecution that judgment begins in the household of faith. (1 Peter 4:17) So too does shaking.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us "we who are receiving the unshakable kingdom should have gratitude, with which we should offer worship pleasing to God in reverence and awe." (Heb 12:28) Through our Baptism we now live in the in the Church. She is the mystical body of Jesus Christ and we are members of that Body. The Church is the only real place of safety in the world.
On Monday, May 21, 2012, Benedict XVI, held a luncheon with members of the College of Cardinals. He told them "The Church, the Mystical Body, exists on this earth, and is called the Church militant, because its members struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil."
He shared insights into the struggles of this hour and told the Cardinals, "(I) especially thank the Lord for the many years He has given me, years with many days of joy, wonderful times, but also dark nights. But in retrospect it is understood that the nights were necessary and good."
"We see evil wants to rule the world and it is necessary to go into battle against evil. We (see) it does in so many ways, bloody, with various forms of violence, but also disguised with good and thus destroying the moral foundations of society."
"We're in this fight and (in) this fight it is very important to have friends. I am surrounded by friends of the College of Cardinals: they are my friends and I feel at home, I feel safe in the company of great friends who are with me, together."
Those friends have now gathered in Rome. We need to pray for them. That they will draw close to the One who calls us friends, Jesus Christ, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. They have an extraordinarily important task ahead of them over the coming days.Their choice has historic, indeed eternal, implications.
The use of the phrase "Church Militant" to describe the Church on earth used to be common. However, for lots of reasons, including a possible misunderstanding of the term, it fell out of use since the Second Vatican Council. It needs to be revived.
In 1953, the Pope Pius XII, who had led the Church through two decades of darkness in a world besieged by war, stated "We belong to the Church militant; and she is militant because on earth the powers of darkness are ever restless to encompass her destruction."
As we face growing hostility toward the Church and her leadership we need to hear afresh the words the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians: "We do not wrestle against flesh and blood; but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." (Eph. 6:11,12)
In 1969, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote a small book entitled "Faith and the Future". In it he spoke of what might be ahead for the Church. Little did he realize then that he would later occupy the Chair of Peter. Here are a few excerpts:
"The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, she will lose many of her social privileges. As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members."
"It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution - when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church."
"Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret."
"And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith."
"She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man's home, where he will find life and hope beyond death."
"But in all of the changes at which one might guess the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world."
The next occupant of the Chair of Peter has construction and infrastructure work to do. The workers preparing the Sistine Chapel provide a sign pointing to the work of the next pontificate.
Let us pray for the wisdom of heaven to guide the Cardinal electors at this pivotal and prophetic moment in the history of the Church - and the world into which she is sent to continue the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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