Over at NRO, Kathryn Jean Lopez interviews Fr. John Jay Hughes, Church historian and priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, on the abdication of Pope Benedict. The entire piece is worth reading but two sections stand out. The first is on the ultimately negative protections of the Holy Spirit in the actions of a conclave:

The promised assistance of the Holy Spirit is present in the choice of all bishops, including Popes as Bishops of Rome. The Spirit’s role, however, is not to guarantee the right choice, but to prevent total disaster once the choice (itself the communal act of fallible human beings, however well intentioned) has been made.

This is a crucial point, as many Catholics treat the choice of a Pope like an act of unassailable wisdom. Ditto for the pronouncements of ecumenical councils, whose word choices are sometimes considered to be almost divinely dictated. The Holy Spirit’s guarantees are considerably more modest. And here is Fr. Hughes’s recommendation to those of us, like me, who are laggards in deciding what to give up for Lent:

Preaching at Mass on Ash Wednesday, I suggested that if those present wished to take on something “extra” for Lent, rather than “giving something up,” they might well resolve to pray daily: “Lord, bless Pope Benedict, and give us a good new Holy Father.” One thing I told them is certain: None of us now living will ever experience a Lent like this one.

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