It is such a joy when the chimney of the Sistine Chapel emits white smoke and the Vatican bells begin ringing gloriously as a heralding to the world of the fact that the See of Peter is no longer vacant. Once again, we have a pope. But the relief and joy, for those who are keen followers of the papacy, very quickly translates into an instantaneous anxiety over who this new pope is going to be and what he would be like as compared to our popes of the recent past. Will he be as media-friendly as the Blessed John Paul II? Will he be as theologically astute as Pope Benedict XVI? Such disconcerting speculations, amidst others, race through one's mind.
I must admit that my heart skipped a beat when the new Supreme Pontiff appeared at the balcony without the traditional papal mozzetta (there is even a special one made for the Lenten and Advent seasons, but he was not wearing it).
I have received, in the past two days, some messages from friends and young people asking why I have been thus silent over the matter of the conclave. After all, the election of the pope is one very major affair and I suppose they deem it uncharacteristic of me to have no comment about the proceedings and result of the conclave.
Well, first off, I am nothing more than a deacon of the Church, called to be of humble assistance to the bishop and his priests. I do not automatically assume that it is my place to make any comments about such lofty affairs of the Church. After all, even our bishops themselves are rather quiet about it!
Secondly, there is no need to for me to announce so overtly that I intend to render my unconditional obedience to this new pontiff. It is an understood reality. Whoever sits on the Chair of Peter is the supreme and universal shepherd of the Church, the Vicar of Christ, and deserves nothing less than my allegiance, my submission of intellect and will and even my religious assent. It is my intention to continue living the Catholic life and my vocation cleaving to the Petrine Office upon which the Church of Jesus Christ is built and continues to stand. This promise of obedience stands regardless of the man who holds the office and remains untainted by whatever subjective feelings or sentiments I may have about the man himself.
But at the level of the subjective, what do I feel about the man? I do not know. I need time to get to know my pope. I need time to acquaint myself to aspects of Church life that he holds dear and facets of doctrine and morality that he emphasises. Since Benedict XVI is the only pope I have ever had in the course of my Catholic life, and since I adored him so deeply, I am aware of the natural but unjust tendency to begin comparing this new pontiff with the pope who was my father. I will try my best to avoid this injustice and allow the new Holy Father to reveal himself to the Church, to the world and to me on his own terms. He has a right to be who he uniquely is and does not owe it to me to tickle my fancy by making himself into someone I can hero-worship. If this pope is going to be of any good for the Church at all, his preoccupation would be with directing my attention and focus to Christ for whom he stands as Vicar.
I am quite sure that Pope Francis is going to be rather different from Pope Benedict XVi, just as Pope Benedict XVI was rather different from Pope John Paul II. But the miracle of the papacy lies not so much in the fact that God continuously manufactures a succession of homogenous popes, but rather, that He continues to guide His Church through the diversity of unique personalities that occupy that Chair of St Peter. The only thing that should hold them together is their unyielding love for and devotion to the life of the People of God and their unrelenting obedience to the Sacred Tradition that elevates them to this position in the first place.
Thirdly, I tend to be more concerned for the Catholic populace rather than for the new pope himself. I think he himself is quite sure of what he intends to do with the Church, and should he not be entirely sure, the guarantee of divine guidance upon his papal office will see to it that he is. But the crowd, on the other hand, is an entirely different thing. There already seems to be many clergy and laity whose gravitation has always been towards the more liberal side of the faith (or whatever is left of it) hijacking the identity of this newly elected pontiff to peddle their own decidedly liberal and hermeneutically ruptured brand of Catholicism. They have already begun vocally reveling in the fact that this pope bowed humbly before the people and sat on a bus instead of in a limousine (or whatever else they may have noticed about him that has garnered their decisive affection) by interpreting these minor acts as a "breaking away from (meaningless age-old) tradition". So he has now become THEIR pope, the way they have always felt a pope should be, not one following in the footsteps of St Francis of Assisi the holy, reverent and courageous man but St Francis the hippie who effected an outburst of love in his world through his flower power.
I have only one thing to say about these people: one day, if ever Pope Francis displays a slightest hint of conservatism and continuity with the Sacred Tradition of the Church, they will be the first to shout "Crucify him!" the way they did the the popes before him. They who so impetuously claim ownership over him might also be the first to expel him from his legitimate authority of their faith. And this may well be happening sooner than later. As far as I am concerned, it is his rightful duty to be a pope for the people; but I am not sure he owes it to anyone to be a pope of the people.