Photo from L'Oservatore Romano, with permission

 I was taken by this photo of the final minutes of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy.  Pope Benedict XVI along with the Prefect of the Papal Household, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, leave public view after the Pope’s brief appearance on the balcony of Castle Gandolfo. 

Thank you, Pope-emeritus, for you fidelity and loving term as our Shepherd in Chief.

Now, five days into the General Congregation meetings of the College of Cardinals, all 115 of the Cardinal Electors are in Rome.  Preparations are well underway to ready the Sistine Chapel for the Conclave.  The Cardinals are now fulfilling perhaps their most important role, prayerfully preparing to elect the next successor to St. Peter.

UPDATE:  The date for the Conclave is now set for Tuesday, March 12.  The Cardinals will gather for a concelebrated Mass (For the Election of the Roman Pontiff) midmorning.  Later that afternoon, they will process into the Sistine Chapel to the chanting of the Litany of the Saints, and the Conclave will begin for the election of a new Pope.

Presently, there are 153 Cardinals gathered for the General Congregation Meetings.  During this past week, during these Congregation Meetings, the Cardinals are hearing reports on the state of the Church, and provided opportunities to speak and ask clarifying questions.  They are discerning together what qualities they are looking for in the next Pope.  These are also significant days for them to foster a true sense of unity among themselves as they get to know one another.  Once the Dean of the Cardinals, Cardinal Sodano, feels that their deliberations have matured to the point they are ready to enter into Conclave, a date will be set for the all important election process to begin.

 Now it is time for all of us to do our part; pray.  Let us fervently pray as the Universal Church anticipates this historic Conclave.  Along with Cardinal Dolan, I encourage a novena to St. Joseph.  The Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary is March 19, which means a novena should begin nine days leading up to his feast, March 11.  See Cardinal Dolan’s blog post here. 

Prayers to our Blessed Mother, Mother of the Church, seeking her intercession on behalf of the Cardinal Electors are a great assistance.  Mary accompanied our Lord throughout His life and ministry, his death and resurrection.  Mary was present in the Upper Room with the Apostles when they received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Mary is present with us now, to hold us close to her Son.  Let us prayerfully seek her intercession on behalf of her Son’s Church at this critical time.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, prayers to the Holy Spirit are most beneficial to lead and guide our Cardinals that they will choose the Successor to St. Peter whom God’s will envisions.  The Church is both human and divine.  Just as the Sacraments build upon our human nature, so, too, the Holy Spirit works through the very human process of a Conclave to select a Pope to lead and guide the Catholic Church. 

Just as Christ’s divinity was hidden in his humanity, so, today, the divinity of Christ is hidden within the humanity of His Church.  This means that just as Christ’s divinity was always present with his humanity, so, too, his divinity is always present within His Church. 

Let us now keep vigil with and for our Cardinal-Electors, that they may experience the Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit to select our next Holy Father, the one who is the desire of our Heavenly Father.