April 21, 2005

For whom the bell tolls

I almost went to sleep early.

Tuesday evening, while scanning the channels (GMA7, CNN, BBC and EWTN) monitoring the events at St. Peter's Square, I was about to switch the tv off when I heard Vicky Morales excitedly saying, live from the Vatican, that there was smoke from the chimney. Sure enough, there was.

But, it wasn't clear to Vicky because her vantage point was ground level at St. Peter's Square whether it was black or white; from where I sat watching the tv, it was WHITE and I wanted to scream at her, "hey, its white! We have a Pope!" But then, a few minutes after, it turned grayish and then white again. That led every commentator, including the very knowledgeable John Allen Jr. (his book, The Conclave, is very informative), to issue a cautionary notice. Then, very wisely, the priest on EWTN (very cool guy, I must say), intoned in his deep baritone that "we must thank John Paul II for this--his foresight in ordering the great bell at St. Peter's to toll if there is already a new Pope."

So, the eyes of the world, previously riveted to a smokestack, which was now literally smoking, turned to a great bell. Minutes crept by and as filler commentary poured in, the crowd at St. Peter's was already chanting, "Habemus Papam"; they knew, don't ask me how but they knew. About fifteen minutes after the smoke, while all eyes were on the great bell, I SAW IT MOVE even before it tolled! Then, bedlam ensued.

As the bell tolled, you could hear the crowd cheering and clapping. From where I sat, I texted friends whom I knew would still be awake (and a few that I was sure wouldn't mind being awakened) the two words that everyone had become familiar with over the past two weeks--"Habemus Papam!"

While speculation was rife over who it would be, I was almost sure that it would be Cardinal Ratzinger given the brevity of the conclave. There would be no surprises and the man who entered the Sistine Chapel a Pope came out as Benedict XVI.

As the bell continued to toll and the crowd continued to thicken, I said a short prayer for my new shepherd--"a lowly laborer in the vineyard of the Lord"--for his protection, for grace and blessing, for his health, and for wisdom and inspiration. But I also said a short prayer for me--his stubborn sheep, his obstinate lamb, his headstrong ward--that I would be able to trust in the wisdom of Our Father in Heaven and His Holy Spirit of Truth, that I would be able to transcend any intellectual disagreements with Pope Benedict's conservative edicts and believe, with all my heart, that God's wisdom will be made manifest in not only his choice of shepherd but also his selection of sheep.

I had many intellectual disagreements with John Paul II's pronouncements on a lot of things but never on matters of faith and belief; my intellectual disagreements, however, never detracted from nor diminished my respect and love for the man, John Paul The Great. And now the man behind a lot of John Paul II's pronouncements was now seated on his chair. I knew that, in the days to come if he proved true to his character and his principles, I would have the same intellectual disagreements with Benedict XVI. I took refuge, though, and found comfort in the knowledge that he was a choice made not by man but by God Himself, working through men, and that there is a divine wisdom, unfathomable to man, in his choice as shepherd to me. And, humbly, I accepted and I obeyed.

As the bell continued to toll at St. Peter's Square, I ended my prayer to the background of the cheering crowd and the tolling bell, lending my cheers to the crowd and knowing fully well for whom the bell tolled.

It tolled for me: tolling an end to my stubborness, my disobedience, my hubris and my pride.

It tolled for me: asking me to embrace wholeheartedly the faith that stretches unbroken two thousand and some years back.

It tolled for me: inviting me to put my trust in my new shepherd, the one whom God had burdened with the task of salvation, of conversion, of transformation.

And I said simply, Amen.

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