The pope is dead.
Never before in my life have I heard those words proclaimed, and for the past two weeks I have been repeating them to myself, over and over again, as if the news were too much to take in all at once, but must soak in gradually like the first spring rain. Certainly it is a strange time to be alive, and to be a Catholic. My emotions are strong, and mixed. There is sadness, grief that a great man is dead, that a holy life is ended, that a constant in my life is suddenly gone. And there is excitement and curiosity about what will happen now, who will emerge from the coming conclave to fill the Chair of Peter, and what aspects of the Church will come to the fore during the 265th papacy.
But shouldn’t I be worried? Shouldn’t I be a afraid? The man who emerges later this week upon the balcony clad in white to bless the city and the world will be in a position to influence the course of history throughout the world, and the actions he will take (or not take) will reverberate in the lives of billions of souls. I take some comfort in my belief that the Holy Spirit will indeed be at work as the cardinals make their choice from among themselves of the next leader of the Catholic Church. But they are all human, too, and there have been good popes, and many less good, throughout the long history of Christendom. Who knows which kind we shall see next? I hope and pray that it will be just the man that God knows we need.