I'm sitting here, still trying to absorb all of this.
I'm not even talking about the bare fact of Cardinal Ratzinger being elected Pope.
I'm talking about the intense interest, the breathless suspense, the reaction - the vast majority of it celebratory and grateful.
All channeled to us via the press, which seemed to be celebrating along with us.
If you can remember such things, put yourself back in time - say about 10 or 12 years - and imagine learning that one day, Joseph Ratzinger would be elected Pope and a lot of American Catholics would celebrate that fact, and that the media would give us fantastic images of the event, sometimes standing back in quiet respect, sometimes getting caught up itself, and only occasionally sniping.
Would you have believed it?
I just keep thinking...why? To what are we all (aside from the Ratzinger Fan Club!) reacting and responding to? Why is this so interesting and yes, exciting, even for people far less intensely hooked to Catholicism or even Christianity, than I? Why was Chris Wallace getting chills? Why were the other anchors like kids on Christmas?
Part of it was, indeed, the drama. You can't do any better than this - in magnificent buildings, on historic, sacred ground, all eyes on what looked like a rather rickety chimney, looking for, of all things - smoke.
Like incense rising to heaven. Like a sacrifice being offered to God.
But of an indeterminate color. More suspense, so our eyes turned to the bells. Looking for the slightest movement, a beginning of a peal, just a hint.
And it came...and the crowd erupted, and from the streets of Rome, they streamed, pouring out of buildings. Curious, excited, grateful, some just along for the ride, some to be a part of history, some in prayer and hope.
Called to gather, to hear news. Called by smoke from a chimney and called by the intonation of a bell.
Come. Come now - together.
Habemus Papam...such joy I saw on the faces. Again the question - why? Of course we would have a pope. It wasn't as if one wouldn't get elected. But we didn't even know who he was? Why were we happy? Would we meet him personally? Probably not - our lives would still be centered around our parishes, our prayer corners in our own homes, the quiet chapels or places in the wild where we like to pray.
But...we were still overjoyed. Even the skeptics were caught up in it.
I think it might because of this.
What else has lasted? What else that we daily touch, see, hear and discuss has lasted for 2000 years? We cannot trace our biological families back so far. Most of us don't live in countries that old - although a few do! Even those who do don't dwell under governments and social structures, reading and living out of the same texts their ancestral countrymen did millenia ago.
We gripe about change. We wonder how all of this fits with our modern world.
But in our hearts, we are looking for what lasts. We are looking for what endures. What was planted firmly in the words and deeds and promises of One who walked and loved centuries ago, that has tried to preserve those words and deeds faithfully and to continue ministering in His name, and what speaks to us..through ancient ceremony, art and those very words echoes by the One - promising us that the solidity, the beauty, the faithfulness we see are but faint hints of what is to come, what waits for us.
I'm not sure, but I think this is part of it. What I saw today thrilled me, not because I was a partisan of one candidate or another - as I said last week, I was ready to be surprised - and I was. Pleasantly, the more I think about it.
But what thrilled me the most was the living presence of Jesus - not in one individual, not in a hope for any particular "direction" of the future, but just in the whole event, which was more than event, which reached back, looked forward and drew us all in, eyes focused on what Benedict XVI spoke of - God deigning to use his humble servants to see His will accomplished - to treasure each human life, to care for the poor, to share mercy and forgiveness, a call sent out and answered for millenia...
To hear the bell...and to come.