VATICAN CITY -- Cardinals remained divided over who should be pope on Wednesday after three rounds of voting, an indication that disagreements remain about the direction of the Catholic church following the upheaval unleashed by Pope Benedict XVI's surprise resignation.
When it comes to the conclave, the secular media just doesn't understand. They can only report on what they see, and what they see isn't much. They see the doors of the Sistine Chapel being closed, as the non-cardinals are forced to leave the room. They see black smoke billowing from the chimney. They see pilgrims who stand outside for hours waiting for the first glimpse of white smoke.
So, with what little they see, they have to construct some sort of a story. Their imaginations kick into gear, and we're left with stories of the cardinals' disagreement over the direction of the Church.
But what's really going on?
There's nothing wrong with using our imaginations to envision what is occurring behind those closed doors. But in my mind, it's something more like this:
- The deep sighing of the cardinal whose heart begins pounding as he realizes that perhaps God is calling him to serve as the next pope.
- The tense voting period as each cardinal prays that the Holy Spirit will guide them, walking toward the Last Judgement by Michelangelo to place his vote in the urn.
- The quiet of prayer in which each man pours his heart before God, feeling the burden of the Church and the weight of choosing a new Vicar of Christ.
- The knowledge of the cardinals that they are surrounded by prayer -- from the Church Militant, the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant.
- The lying awake at night wondering what the next day will bring.
These imaginative thoughts are not the stuff of the media's depiction of a political election for the most powerful man in the world award. What can be seen is the lace, the ceremony, the gold, the tremendous art, the kissing of the ring. What cannot be seen is the fear, the burden, the weight of leading the world, the interior crucifixion that takes place when the role of pope is accepted.
What cannot be seen is the Holy Spirit inspiring the cardinals in their role to defend, support and love the Church that has been given to them. And this is what makes the conclave different than any other sort of voting event in the world.