Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Me and Joe

Six years ago today, in fact, this very hour, I was sitting on a student desk in Sr. Rita's room (don't tell her) watching the news coverage of the conclave.

It was my first year as a high school theology teacher and I had just wrapped up my classroom conclaves in each of my senior classes. The lesson was covered by a local tv news station. I had the students debate on the needs of the Church and the abilities of some fictional papabile I had created. In the end, the students voted by submitting their ballots into my Last Supper lunch box and we discussed the merits of the new pontiff, and what the immediate future would hold for him.

During my lunch period I would watch the ongoing coverage of the real conclave on the classroom television. On this particular day one of my seniors, Joe Ortiz, popped into the room, his curiosity piqued by a teacher sitting on a desk, craning his neck to watch tv. Joe quickly disappeared, only to reappear later with his lunch tray. Just as he began to eat his lunch the first sign of smoke wafted from the Sistine Chapel. On the screen it appeared to be gray, but soonthe pealing of the bells of St. Peter's confirmed that in fact We have a pope! My mind began racing thinking about who it was in the room of tears being fitted for his white cassock. Would it be another non-Italian? An African? A Latin American? Or would the throne of St. Peter revert to the Italians? What name would the new pontiff take? How old would he be? Where would the media pigeon-hole him on the liberal - conservative spectrum? In between my racing thoughts I tried to answer Joe's questions without being dismissive, watching as the camera's began to focus on the famous balcony which last introduced a pontiff to the world the night before I was born.

Soon the senior Cardinal-Deacon appeared, and the words rang out across the square with jubilation. I felt as if I had been electrified, buzzing with anticipation. Finally the phrase I awaited, "Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum; habemus Papam: Eminentissimum ac
Reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum..."
Who? Who was it?!
Yes! Ratzinger. It had to be! Right?
"Sanctae Romanae Ecclesiae Cardinalem..."
"qui sibi nomen imposuit Benedictum..."

I leaped off the desk, jumped a few times a few times, and wrote in huge letters on the board, "Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger = Pope Benedict."

Joe tried to share my enthusiasm, the way I try to share a student's enthusiasm for March Madness. But, lunch was over, and he had to get his tray down to the cafeteria before class.
I appreciate Joe - he was a student who kept me honest, kept me grounded in the reality of who I was serving. These were not seminarians, not college students, but teenagers, who had a low threshold for anything that wasn't genuine or authentic. (You might say their BS meters were finely tuned.)

Fortunately the college of cardinals had just given them, given the world, a shepherd who would work tirelessly to bring the authentic, genuine message of Christianity to the world.

Lord, source of eternal life and truth, give to Your shepherd, the Pope, a spirit of courage and right judgement, a spirit of knowledge and love.

By governing with fidelity those entrusted to his care may he, as successor to the apostle Peter and vicar of Christ, build Your church into a sacrament of unity, love, and peace for all the world.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

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