When the great wooden doors of the papal residence at Castel Gondolfo closed Thursday evening, the pontificate of Benedict XVI was complete. No one occupies the See of Peter. Sede vacante. Josef Ratzinger, the emeritus Bishop of Rome, bid pilgrims in the palace courtyard "Buona notte," and entered a period of well-deserved retirement. The rounds of farewells are ended. The decision of when to begin the conclave to elect the next pope will not be taken until early next week. It is time for the church to take a rest too, to turn a deaf ear to speculation, refuse to be drawn into gossip and listen for the whispers of the Spirit.
If we cannot bring ourselves to contemplative quiet, we might imitate the bemused conspiracy of King Lear and Cordelia
No, no,no, no! Come, let us away to prison:
We too alone will sing like birds in the cage.
When thou dost ask me blessing, I'll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness, and we'll live
And pray and sing, and tell tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies,and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news,and we'll talk with them too,
Who wins and who loses; who's and who's out;
And take upon's the mystery of things,
As if we're God's spies, and we'll wear out,
In a wall'd prisons, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.
Whatever Shakespeare's religious convictions, he showed a religious sensibility. When great, even awful things, have transpired, it is time to come aside, to pray, to bless and forgive. That's an agenda for any humans, even more for Christians. To pray, to bless, and forgive: These are things we should do, like Lear and Cordelia, always, but especially in the weeks before a new pope is elected.
They are deeply human activities all human beings need to undertake in times of crisis to re-fashion the bond of human solidarity, to refresh their sense of humanity and attain renewed integrity. They are tasks for the offenders in the church so much in the news and for those who failed by omission. They are tasks for the cardinals in conclaves, for the Roman Curia and bishops everywhere. They are the duties of all good Christians who long for the purification of their church and a new Pentecost.
But, even for those who are not Christian, not Catholic, for those who in some way share what is taking place in the church as their parents' generation shared in the Second Vatican Council, prayer, blessing and forgiveness are ways to express their human solidarity with the world's Catholics. The world cannot be indifferent to fully one sixth of its number.
Finally, even for the church's critics, especially those who have been injured by her, prayer, blessing and forgiveness are a path to healing and wholeness. Perhaps, even more, singing, Lear's first proposal, will heal and reconcile as little else will. Singing in chorus is one of humanity's primal religious expressions.
And then there is the ironic heavenly view of the great ones of this life. Sub specie aeternitatis, all the news bulletins, the twitter feeds, the expert commentary, even the pomp and circumstance, are so much passing trivia from which we can take gentle amusement. What counts in a time of crisis, especially for us at the edge of events, is that we "take on us the mystery of things."
What is that mystery? For that we need to hush ourselves, to quiet our restless minds and relax our anxious hearts. A community of more than a billion believers is trying to renew itself, to draw once more from its Galilean roots, to renew itself as a visible communion of saints. That's a mystery we must approach with forgiveness, blessing, prayer and song. That's the mystery before we should be silent, so the Spirit can bring renewal.
Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and renew your church.