Okay, I admit it: this is weird. I mean, not having a Pope. It is not a catastrophic as, say, if the sun were to go out, but more like the effect on everyone’s balance if the sun were to run its course from west to east. Everything is cast in a different light.
The first day I found myself Popeless, Friday, March first, was tougher than I had expected. Nothing seemed to have a chance of going right. I don’t mean that it was hard to leave out his name at Mass during the Eucharistic Prayer; I was ready for that. No, I mean there is this sense of being hobbled by missing someone we need.
As I explained a few weeks ago, this is not the first time the Church has been Popeless; on the contrary, it has happened 263 times. We know what to do, and we are doing it. This is attracting a lot of attention and speculation, much of it rather… overheated. People are speaking of this moment in the Church’s life as if it were cataclysmically critical with peril on every side and seismic transformation imminent. If that be true, it is not any more true now than any other time. So I draw to your attention two things to help you maintain your perspective in the face of disorienting Popelessness.
First is the Lenten Food Drive in which we participated last week. You brought in an extraordinary amount of food to be shared with our local poor through the Capital Area Food Bank. Early estimates are that you handily exceed last year’s generous amount. It sure took up a lot of space in the church! Praise God for your willingness to care for your brothers and sisters and take seriously the Lenten charge of almsgiving.
Secondly, Tuesday evening saw the church filled to overflowing with seventy-eight of young people and their family and friends, along with a successor to the Apostles, Bishop Martin Holley, Auxiliary of Washington, who came to confer the Sacrament of Confirmation. It was a beautiful evening, full of joy. Personally, I found great delight and encouragement in seeing Confirmed so many kids whom I have known literally all their lives. To see them so seriously attentive to the working of the Spirit was marvelous. It was also good to see so many of their family members from near and far. Many of them I have come to know and recognize over the years.
So, right here in Silver Spring, you have your evidence that the Church continues to be the Church. Alms are given for the poor, and the Spirit comes at the invocation of the Apostles: the Body of Christ is alive. The Church does the work of God’s mercy, turning our hearts and minds back to God in repentance for our selfishness, and giving what we have to those who have not. She also brings the life that God alone can give in the Sacraments, reconciling souls to God, and distributing the very power of God to souls willing to conform their lives to Him and witness to His Saving work.
So, yes, this is weird. But the cataclysm – that the Church might cease to be who Church has always been – is not going to happen. She continues to preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified as the unique hope of salvation. She continues to teach what is good, and what is evil, and call people in every circumstance away from sin and toward obedience. She continues to care for the poor, the lonely, and the sad, and she continues to provide the saving sacraments that are the presence and activity of the living God for all who crave Him.
So yes, these days are weird. But our Popelessness will change, and soon, and the Church will not change in her essence any more than will our loving, constant God Himself.