It was this afternoon’s bizarre combination of ancient pageantry and 21st century technology that caused my most meticulously-laid-plans to go haywire. Specifically, it was the interruption of my usual working playlist by a crescendo of cheers emanating from one of the 38 tabs that are usually up on my Google Chrome at any given moment. A text message from popealarm.com followed seconds later, and that was confirmation enough for me issue my first Facebook update for the day: “Habemus Papam.” We have a Pope.
It wouldn’t be the last.
Within minutes, I’d stumbled my way into the community’s TV room, laptop tucked under one arm, scalding tea sloshing in the other. Soon enough I was surrounded by my brother Jesuits, my community (or at least what remained of our community during Spring Break).
This TV room is what my normal looks like.
The pastor of the parish down the block was there, the big event having given him an excuse to kick his feet up in the middle of a busy workday. So was one scholastic still sweating from jiu jitsu practice, and another fresh from working at a community garden. And all of us were intruding on the downtime of a Jamaican scholastic who had been taking full advantage of spring break to eat a quiet lunch in front of the TV. After a few moments of polite sparring about where watch the announcement we settled on ABC because their Latin translator is a friend of a friend. And we waited.
Some of us (yours truly perhaps or perhaps not included) quickly lost ourselves in the tidal wave of digital conclave hysteria. Who’s it going to be? Why did @pontifex get reactivated before the pope was announced? (Aside: best unwritten tweet? “just won a conclave! now gonna #urbietorbi #YOLO.”) Questions galore.
And never did it cross my mind to ask the question of whether a Jesuit would get elected. In my defense, here are three reasons why:
- There was only one Jesuit cardinal present
- He was old, and
- A Jesuit would never be pope.
Seriously. We all knew it. A Jesuit would never be pope. We’d been told it since entrance day. We believed it. And thats why it didn’t quite make sense that, amidst the rumble of the crowd in St. Peter’s square and the quick translations I was doing from my rusty Latin, I heard: “Bergoglio.”
I knew who he was, we all did. But that doesn’t mean any of us were able to accept that maybe we’d said “impossible” just a little too blithely. And everyone else picked up on it too. A moment later my e-world exploded: phone, Facebook, Gchat, email, Twitter… explosions all. And it seemed like everyone wanted an answer to a question that looked, in summary, more or less like this: “!!!!!!!!!”. My own private thoughts, I thought, could wait. Respond now, sort it out later.
And then Pope Francis started to pray.
Quietly and simply he started to pray the prayers we all know. The Our Father. The Hail Mary. And as I looked around our crowded, eclectic, digitally exploded TV room, it was like the new pope had flipped a switch.
Those of us locked in our frantic digital cycles stopped – and then calmly lowered our screens, set down our phones, and began to pray. We prayed in, well, whatever language we usually pray in, using words familiar from a thousand repetitions and a rhythm regular as a metronome. A historic moment. An unprecedented moment, one that struck so near the living heart of the identity of every person in that room, but following the lead of a 76 year old man standing on a balcony before of a crowd of 100,000. Instead of cluttering the air with witticisms or prognostications or things we knew about the man who was Cardinal Bergoglio (yes, TJP is guilty as charged as well…). Instead we were praying the very first prayers many of us had ever learned.
The moment passed, as it does and must. But a few hours later, as the sun sets on a day in which I’ve been more digitally active than I’ve been in years, the moment that drifts back to me is not one in which I succeeded in incisively explaining Jesuit history, nor was it the (admittedly awesome) visual of thousands cheering “Vive il Papa!” It wasn’t even my thoughts of “What does this mean for us, us Jesuits?”
It was the basics, the basics spoken quietly enough to call me, for a moment, out of my frenetic cocoon and make me listen: