While most of the Church will read and reflect over the Cycle C Readings during this Fourth Sunday of Lent, those who are marking the Second Scrutinies of the Elect will ponder the readings for Cycle A. For me, the first reading from Cycle A, which comes from the First Book of Samuel, takes on a deeper significance, as 115 Cardinal Electors prepare to enter the Conclave which will elect a successor to our beloved Benedict XVI.
In this particular reading, we encounter the prophet Samuel whom God commands to travel to Bethlehem to go and anoint a new King of Israel from among the sons of man named Jesse.
“The Lord said to Samuel, ‘Fill your horn with oil and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided myself a king from among his sons.’
“Samuel consecrated Jesse and his sons, and invited them to the sacrifice. When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely, the Lord’s anointed is before him.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’
“And Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel. And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these. Are all of your sons here?’ Jesse said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but behold, he is keeping the sheep.’ Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and fetch him; for we will not sit down till he comes here.’
“And he sent, and brought David in to see him. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is he.’
“Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”
Ever since the Supreme Pontiff Emeritus, Benedict XVI, announced his resignation, the media, Catholic and secular alike, have speculated as to who his successor would be. The usual list of Papabile showed up in practically every media outlet. The list rivals that of the 64 collegiate basketball teams competing for March Madness’ Final Four. CNN, ABC, FOX, BBC, CBS and NBC and even the Catholic Channel on Sirius XM, raised questions concerning where the future pope could be from or whether or not he would be reform minded. Facebook and Twitter are abuzz with everyone issuing a wish list of the qualities they want in the new pope.
I have to admit that I have fallen prey to this mindset I suppose that I want a younger Joseph Ratzinger: a devoted promoter of authentic liturgical reform, superb theologian, a gifted preacher and teacher and a lover of souls.
Yet, at this particular moment, the Church presents us with the account of David’s anointing. She reminds us that “man does not see as the Lord sees.” We look at whether or not the man who would be Pope is media savvy, has charisma, is able to be a populist and can modernize the Church. I cannot presume to speak for God; none of us should dare try. However, maybe He is looking for something beyond what we see. While being a part of the world is certainly important, the Church needs someone who will be able to help fit us for the next world, the heavenly Jerusalem.
God chooses the most surprising instruments to bring about his greatest accomplishments. Jesse certainly did not expect that the boy tending sheep would wind up leading a kingdom. Samuel probably did not see that one coming. David was probably just as surprised. But, God had a plan.
In the same way, no one probably saw a shy, elderly man wearing a white alb step out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s as the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI. But, just as He had a plan for a very young shepherd named David, God, had a plan for Joseph Ratzinger.
In about 40 hours or so, the Cardinal Electors will process into the Sistine Chapel to perform the most sacred duty of electing a new Pope. They will do so under the intimidating gaze of Michelangelo’s panorama of salvation history. My prayer is that each Cardinal see as God sees and not as the media or the secular world sees. The Pope Emeritus told the Cardinals that the new Pope was already in their midst. Just as God pointed out the new King of Israel to Samuel, so will He point the new Supreme Pontiff to the men who will elect him.