One of my favorite Old Testament books is the book of Esther. The Jewish holiday of Purim begins Saturday night. Today’s First Reading features Esther in a time of prayer.
Sometimes, things happen that inspire us to change our perspectives, which Fr. Robert Barron talks about in his Lent Reflection. For Esther, she realized that it was no coincidence that she was chosen to become queen at a time when her people needed someone to save them from Haman’s genocide. Last year, it was no coincidence that the 50th Anniversary of Vatican II happened at the same year that Pope Benedict decided to abdicate and Pope Francis was elected.
Timing is everything and since God is the creator and master of time, it was His will that all of these things happened. To this day, I still wonder why Benedict chose to retire, even though I know that he wanted to retire before he was elected. He chose to be pope for eight years, setting the foundation for some changes in the Church that were more interior than exterior. Because of Benedict, the Mass has changed and I’m starting to forget the times before the new Roman Missal.
I’ll be honest when I say that I took him for granted at the time. #cradleCatholicproblems, I know. But I took the pope for granted even back as a kid when John Paul II was pope. I took both popes for granted for different reasons. When John Paul II was pope, I was a little kid who saw him as an old man. He was past his prime, struggling with Parkinsons, and I didn’t know any better. When Benedict became pope, I was a teenager and I was holding onto my faith during a really hard time, but the problem was I didn’t know what it really meant to be Catholic and there wasn’t really anyone around to help me because I was in public school. In college, I realized how amazing both of these popes were and I figured that Benedict would lead the church until God called him home.
Of course, that didn’t happen. And I’ll be honest: I cried when I heard the news. I knew the news could’ve been worse, but I had no idea that popes could choose to not be pope. I felt abandoned and confused. I wasn’t alone in how I felt, either. It was like Lent had started early. I still miss Pope Benedict today, but I always love seeing him, just knowing that he’s alive and well, even though he’s retired.
Fast forward to March 13, 2013.
I was in the living room, watching the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, waiting for the white smoke to come. So far, I have only seen black smoke and it felt like an answer was taking forever. I knew the times that the smoke was likely to appear, but that morning, it took forever.
And then at 1:07PM CST (7:07 Vatican time), the white smoke finally came out.
I started dancing in my living room and I wasn’t the only one. St. Peter’s square was screaming and every Catholic on the internet was rejoicing. Ain’t no party like a Catholic party, people, because we are all connected through our shared baptism and when something like this happens, we can’t help but celebrate.
My mom told me that when God chose the pope in the conclave, he wasn’t just choosing a pope for the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, but that He also chose the new pope for me. God’s timing was working in my life because as I said before, the fact that there was going to be a new pope lifted me up from the sad part of my life. And this was before I even knew who the new pope was going to be.
My first impression of Pope Francis was “He’s kind of awkward and shy.” What I didn’t realize was that he was taking in the crowd and I soon learned just how not awkward or shy Pope Francis was.
Now while people think that Pope Francis is turning the Catholic Church upside-down, I’ll tell you right now, he’s not. The song is the same, but the way the song is played has changed. Think of it this way: if Jesus’s message is like the original version of the best song you’ve ever heard, every pope since then is that band that tries to make their best cover version of that song. Some have made horrible covers, some are okay, and some covers are as awesome as the original. John Paul II’s song was like the showstopping number of an amazing musical. Benedict’s song was a lot more quiet, like a piano sonata. Francis’s song has just begun, but I compare it to an indie pop song that made its way onto the Billboard Top 40. And all of them are equally beautiful in their own way.
But in the end, all popes are striving to sing the same song: follow the example of Christ and live out His message.
Today, think about how God’s timing has worked its way into your life and pray for all the popes that have come before. Also, pray for Pope Francis, since he asked us so nicely.