The conclave to elect a new pope begins tomorrow and, as you might expect, we are preparing for it with prayer and fasting. As I’ve said before, the conclave is an act of the whole Church although the way in which we participate differs according to our particular role within the Church. For most of us that means prayer. Prayer isn’t a substitute for the natural processes of discernment, but it is a vital accompaniment. After all, if we want the Holy Spirit’s involvement, it is a good idea to ask: God doesn’t usually force himself upon us!
There is, however, another sense in which we who are Catholics need to prepare for the conclave. We need to make up our minds that whoever is elected will have our love and obedience (in all that is not sin, understood). The pope is not just any kind of leader. For us he is the successor of St Peter, the Vicar of Christ. Whatever his personal sins and shortcomings, his office entitles him to our respect and co-operation. In other words, the conclave isn’t just about the pope: it is also about us.