One often hears great criticism of "the media," but journalists are usually fairly smart people simply scrambling to get a story and satisfy their editors while doing both with too little time and too little cooperation. Some have ideological blinders that do make their coverage more blood pressure provoking than thought provoking. Most, I think, simply try to do their best in areas they have little specific competency in, like macroeconomics or papal elections.
This often results in a scrum sensibility. This Sunday the cardinals were instructed to each go to the titular church they were assigned when named cardinals, a practice that recalls a times when the cardinal electors all lived in Rome. So Sunday morning, the journalists rushed from titular church to titular church, hoping to catch some clue, or at least see how a particular papabile comports himself in public. (Vatican watcher John Allen wittily tweeted that a conclave held every week would help the New Evangelization because it forces so many journalists to turn out for Mass.)
At each Mass I went to (yes, I was part of the scrum), there were banks of cameras pointed almost threateningly at the cardinal celebrant, as if holding him hostage: You had better say something newsworthy, Eminenza ... But the eminences really did not oblige. Some showed great humor. Others played it straight. All asked for prayers. That was about it.
Of course the occasion was the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday. It is meant to be a joyful day, signaling that Lent is more than half over, and the reading is cause for great joy too: The Prodigal Son. It is a parable of love and mercy and forgiveness, perfect for a sinful and imperfect world, a sinful and imperfect Church.
One journalist, unclear on the concept, expressed surprise that it was the same reading in each church. This was no secret signal, however, but simply the providential coincidence of the Lectionary and the day.
Beyond the curiaThe scrum sensibility carries over to story lines, the conclusions that a whole herd of independent-minded souls draw at the same time. Right now the story line is that this conclave is shaking out to be curial cardinals against the world. Everyone wants reform of the curia, and there are all sorts of scenarios about who can take on this monolithic bureaucracy. Candidates are weighed according to whether they are part of the curial camp or the anti-curial camp.
There is surely some truth to this, but there is so much more that the cardinals are weighing: The challenges of secular society and the needs of the Church Universal. The cardinals are hearing from their colleagues around the world, and there is much being discussed than simply unhappiness with Roman bureaucracy. In fact, as the world grows smaller each day, the cardinals in the East and South know that their people are not immune to the ideologies that so grievously threaten the West and North.
The cardinals, apparently, are quite aware that the entire Church is praying for them. They know about the adopt-a-cardinal effort as well. Indeed, Cardinal Angelo Scola said at the end of his Mass that the selection of the next pope was the responsibility of all Catholics, who participate by praying fervently for the Holy Spirit’s intervention and guidance. The other cardinals have echoed this grateful appeal for prayers.
There are no headlines in that, of course, nor should there be. But for Catholics, this is the bottom line task right now. The Church is at a key intersection in its history, and which direction takes us forward is less than clear. It is about to elect the first pope in 50 years who did not participate in the Second Vatican Council. And that Pope will have many, many crises to deal with at once. Can we respond with anything but prayer at this point?
Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.