Adjusting to the empty chair Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

Last Thursday morning, as I was leaving Rome to return to Madison, Pope Benedict was still the Bishop of Rome and the Pope of the Universal Church; by the time I arrived in the United States in midafternoon, the Chair of Peter was empty.All the while, I had been in the air as a most significant episode in the history of the Church and of the world transpired. I must admit that the sense of an empty Chair of Peter, due to Pope Benedict’s abdication of his office, left me and leaves me with a feeling that I’ve never before experienced.

And so, what to make of all of this? In the first place, there can be no doubt that the Holy Spirit will work through the College of Cardinals in choosing the next Bishop of Rome and Pope of the Universal Church. Furthermore, there can be no doubt whatsoever that the Holy Spirit will work through the next Pope for the good of the Church.

Third, there can be no doubt whatsoever that Pope Benedict very prayerfully, very carefully, very sincerely, and very lovingly undertook the decision that he needed to take at this point in his life. All of the reasons for his making this decision (while they will be the subject of endless speculation) probably will never be known in fact, but the above are the three considerations about which there should be no doubt, whatsoever.

Our response

What should be the response that you and I are called to make to those three considerations?

The answer is always prayer. Certainly we join with Pope Benedict in fervent prayer for his health, wellbeing, and eternal happiness with God when that time comes. And we should pray for the College of Cardinals, that they would be completely open to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, in carrying out their daunting task. And we should pray for our next Pope in advance of his taking his place on Peter’s Chair.

Our primary concern at the moment, what we can actually do about all that we are experiencing, you and I, is simply fervent prayer and fasting in the Lenten spirit.

Worry is not irrational

That is not to say that temptations to worry are irrational. St. Paul himself spoke of his daily solicitude, his daily worries over the Churches of God. St. Paul worried, not because he had any doubt of the Holy Spirit’s firm but gentle guidance, but because of our human weakness within the Church in terms of being receptive to the careful guidance that the Holy Spirit offers to us.

It makes no sense whatever to worry about the Holy Spirit’s accomplishing His purposes, one way or another; but it makes a great deal of sense to worry about the level of human responsiveness to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Lack of human responsiveness to the Holy Spirit is what allows for the devil continually to divide our country and our Church in this country, for example. Nothing is lacking on the part of the Holy Spirit, but so very much can be lacking on the part of us weak human beings.

Thus, while one set of worries is completely unwarranted — as I have pointed out above — there is another set, the set which St. Paul lived himself, day-in and day-out, to which we must give ourselves simply as part of our life in Christ.

The Holy Spirit at work

And so, the Holy Spirit will accomplish his purposes at the Conclave, and the Holy Spirit will accomplish His purposes through the next Pope. And yet, how that will occur depends so much on the receptivity of weak human beings, as I have said. And thus, our task is to return afresh to the discipline of Lent (which is perhaps one of the reasons why Pope Benedict decided to abdicate his office during Lent).

The current situation of an empty Chair of Peter should strengthen our resolve, day-in and day-out, during Lent and every day, to chase after the holiness to which Jesus Christ has called us, by His Death and Resurrection, which give us the power and the pathway to arrive at our salvation, and take our place with the angels and Saints in heaven.

As we pray for the Pope Emeritus, for the College of Cardinals, and for the next Pope, let us do so from “a position of strength,” that is a renewed chasing after holiness, which is the very core of Lent and the core of the Christian life on our way to heaven, wherein we find our true and final citizenship.

Please join with me, as an outward sign of this renewed commitment, in praying Solemn Vespers at St. Maria Goretti Church in Madison next Sunday, at 4 p.m. This outward sign of a gathering to confirm who we are and what we should be doing at this particular moment will be a fine exercise of the New Evangelization, calling all of our brothers and sisters in the diocese to join us in our resolve to the fulfill the responsibilities that our Catholic faith demands of us at this particular historic moment.

Thank you for reading this; God bless each of you and your loved ones with a joyful and holy Lent! Praised be Jesus Christ!