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Anyone who doubts the power of ritual and tradition is watching it at its most exquisite on the world stage and also witnessing how it keeps an august institution afloat fully even in stormy times. It is how the Holy Spirit works. The media can't take their eyes off the smokestack. None of us can.

In those solemn processions and with those Latin chants and in a style that predates even the Middle Ages, a style developed through the centuries -- from the Roman Empire to the Renaissance -- is a beauty that only Catholicism, Christianity's Mother Church, the Church that compiled the very Bible all denominations (if with some variation) use, can orchestrate.

There is the richness of grace and the patience of deliberation. What a Church! Rarely do we meditate on the fact that it existed 1,700 years before the Declaration of Independence.

Countries come. Countries go. Empires fall or rise. The Church is in the design of God. How will the conclave end?

The only prediction from here is that those with strong predictions will see many foresights fall by the wayside.

Hopefully, surprise is in the air; hopefully, the new Pope will capture young imaginations; hopefully, there will be such a fresh new look that the world sees the Church turning the page on the horrid abuse chapter; hopefully a new kind of Pope will invoke a reform council as a further sign that the Church is not just recovering but is roaring back.

We will need it -- the Rock -- in the stormy times (wind, rain, water, quakes) that face the world.

Think ye that comets are without meaning?

The longer the conclave goes, experts say, the better chance for a surprise and we were fascinated to hear that a cardinal from Africa had risen at a congregation meeting before the conclave, as the troubled Vatican Bank was discussed, and asked why the Church had a bank to start with (a question that -- reportedly -- led to loud applause).

Oh, that we would shed the accoutrements of worldliness! The greatest qualification for Pope: prayerfulness. Excellent it is, this time around, that the new Pontiff will stop for Adoration before he is announced on that balcony. May the Holy Spirit with greatest force descend upon him. May he be a Shepherd for life, as Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who heads the College of Cardinals, preached in the homily for the Mass just before the conclave, perhaps indicating his preference for pontificates that last to the very end:

"Brothers and sisters in Christ today’s Gospel takes us back to the Last Supper, when the Lord said to his Apostles: 'This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you' (John 15:12). The text is linked to the first reading from the Messiah’s actions in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, reminding us that the fundamental attitude of the Pastors of the Church is love. It is this love that urges us to offer our own lives for our brothers and sisters. Jesus himself tells us: 'There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends' (John 15:12). The basic attitude of every Shepherd is therefore to lay down one’s life for his sheep (John 10:15). This also applies to the Successor of Peter, Pastor of the Universal Church. As high and universal the pastoral office, so much greater must be the charity of the Shepherd."

When will black smoke lighten?

Soon. Hopefully, not rushed. Our Church is not structured that way. It doesn't need Twitter. It doesn't need Facebook. It doesn't need the internet or television.

It communicates in the most primitive and yet most august of ways, through smoke signals, smoke that sanctifies, smoke that burns the residue of the past.

Come, Holy Spirit! Come, oh Lord God. Give us none of politics. Grant us holiness.  Spare us bureaucracy.

Grant faith as our shield and the Eucharist as our sword and Scripture the road map as we march without fear ahead.

[resources: Lenten books; Michael Brown retreats: Seattle, Portland;  in Buffalo, Syracuse; and Medjugorje pilgrimage: purification, future, self-illumination]

[Print article]

[If a Pontiff is elected on first round of daily balloting, smoke can be as early as 5:30 a.m. EST; if no decision is reached, both morning ballots are burned together, probably around noon Rome time, seven a.m. EST; there are also the two evening ballots; smoke can be as early as 4:30 Rome time, indicating a new Pope (11:30 a.m. EST) or if not, at seven p.m. or later Rome time (two p.m. or after EST]


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