Sunday, April 17, 2005

On Calling Evoking the Holy Spirit a Device

The Washington Post, reporting on the Conclave, examines the statements some of the Cardinals are making regarding the selection of the next Pope. Here's one with the reporter's analysis:
Before going into Vatican City, Honduras' Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga told reporters, "People think we are going to vote like in an election, but this is something completely different. We are going to listen to the Lord and listen to the Holy Spirit." Arinze, Antonelli and Rodriguez have all been touted as papal possibilities.

The evocation of the Holy Spirit is a common device for cardinals when they need to avoid specifics of decision-making inside the Sistine Chapel. The histories of conclaves in the last half of the 20th century show marked similarities with the formation of governments in fractured parliaments. Passions run high, personalities count, quick thinking can make or break a candidacy.
Yikes! For all we know, this Cardinal actually believed that the next Pope has already been selected by God and will be revealed through the Holy Spirit.

When does something that people do become a device and when is it just something that people do? In this case, it must be when the selection of a Pope has become big news and hundreds--maybe thousands--of reporters who don't typically report on religious issues are forced to translate this fairly mysterious religious event into something more easily understood by a non-Cardinal audience.

If it is okay to include religion in public life (and I know that this isn't necessarily a good example, of course) and this inclusion means that we have to translate religious "things" into more secular terms, how can we do it in a way that does justice to the religion? I wonder if we can do it by just acknowledging--as we do it--that the translation will be lousy, but that it's the best that we can do.


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