Our new Pope, the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff came to us last week “out of nowhere.” All the prognosticators seemed to miss him but there he was, humbly serving Our Lord in Argentina. Only a few weeks ago, people sat beside him as they traveled together on the bus or subway. Some would recognize him as the Archbishop and others undoubtedly saw him as “just” some priest (he dressed simply).
When Cardinal Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio washed the feet of AIDS patients, people saw a humble servant. When he was ordained to the priesthood, they saw a faithful man responding to God’s call. When he taught literature and psychology to high school students, people saw a good teacher. When he himself was in high school, people saw a future chemist.
Only at the last conclave was Archbishop Bergoglio seen as papabile (this time, it was assumed that a younger man would be chosen). Otherwise, before and after the last conclave, the future Pope Francis was just one of the faithful working among and with us. Had we stopped to consider him as a future pope, we may have remembered that no one from the Americas was ever chosen nor was a Jesuit ever chosen. “Theoretically” any man may one day be selected as the pope. Some might have thought Jorge Bergoglio would make a fine one but that his chances were the proverbial slim to none.
When the white smoke appeared, we were overjoyed! We did not know who had been selected but it did not matter. Our confidence rests in God that we would get who we need (not necessarily who we want). Even if the Cardinals were not open to the Holy Spirit, we know for certain that He will protect the Church until the end of time.
This is our faith in Christ and His Church. It is also our love for His vicar, even when we do not yet know who he is.
While we did not know who would become the pope (and neither did the Cardinals until their 5th vote), God – who is outside of time – always did. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was always a future pope, unbeknownst to him and everyone else. May his reign be long and fruitful!
One day, Pope Francis’ reign will end and another man will become St. Peter’s 266th successor (the 267th pope). Today that man is among us, somewhere in the world. No one, including him, knows that he will be the next Holy Father. Not only is he among us now, but so are several of his successors. On average, the last 10 popes were elected at 66.9 years of age and reigned for 13.5 years. With us now are possibly 5 future popes (267, 268, 269, 270 and maybe 271)!
Who might they be?
- a Cardinal in his early 60’s who just attended his first conclave.
- a Bishop who is about to turn 50 and will be named an Archbishop in a few years.
- a parish pastor in his mid-thirties.
- a seminarian in his early twenties.
- a boy of 8 looking forward to becoming an altar server.
Whoever they are, those future popes (unless Christ returns first, of course) are out there now. God knows who they are and is forming them for exactly what will be needed. The Holy Spirit is with us.