The wait's over for 1.2 billion Roman Catholics around the world, and for others curious, anxious, or otherwise interested to see who will take on the huge responsibility of leading their Church. Meanwhile newly-elected Pope Francis is in the 'room of tears', coming to terms with the news of his appointment as he vests in the robes of office. Pray for him: he'll need all the help he can get.
The wait wasn't over-long this time round. Three days is the average; in 1268 it took closer to three years. That's a tremendously long wait.
We all know what waiting is like. Waiting for exam results - at least we know when they're due to come. Waiting for the result of an interview - for a job, for a university place. Waiting for news of someone in hospital, undergoing an operation, or unconscious after an accident. Waiting for the arrival of a baby. And in all these situations, we're powerless to do any more - other than pray.
But there are the everyday times of waiting too - times we resent, times which frustrate us. We're stuck on the motorway as the traffic grinds to a halt, powerless to do anything other than wait. We're at the station or the airport; our train or flight has been delayed or cancelled, and we're waiting to find out what happens next. We're in a call centre queue, waiting as the minutes tick by to speak to somebody real about our problem, whatever it may be. We're waiting for medical attention although our appointment time has already passed.
We're waiting for God. For God to answer our prayers. To deliver us from some situation which causes us trouble or grief. To bless us with some gift of his loving mercy. To work for good in the lives of those who are on our hearts, or in the places of violence and despair.
In 1982, WH Vanstone, by then a Canon Residentiary of Chester Cathedral, wrote a perceptive book called 'The Stature of Waiting.' He observes the transition in the Gospels from Jesus taking the initiative, being clearly in charge of what is happening, to Jesus being handed over to the will of others: 'from working to waiting and from freedom to constraint.' Yet the waiting and the constraint are a necessary part of his life and Passion, a consequence of the love he offers and the Kingdom he proclaims. In Jesus, we discern the 'God who waits' in love on his creation - just as a naturalist waits to observe that which is beyond his control, or a scientist waits to see whether his experiment will succeed, or a lover waits for the response or the presence of the loved one. He concludes that there is dignity and meaning in waiting, and that the recognition of this needs to complement the dignity and meaning of sharing in the more obvious and active work of God.
Vanstone is better-known for another book, 'Love's Endeavour, Love's Expense.' The title is taken from a poem he wrote as part of the book. It speaks of the helplessness of Jesus on the cross: the waiting which is a consequence of his love. And it's worth meditating on the poem, which speaks eloquently of the focus and therefore the vocation to love of Pope Francis, of the Roman Church, and indeed of all Christian people.
Morning glory, starlit sky,
Soaring music, scholars' truth,
Flight of swallows, autumn leaves,
Memory's treasure, grace of youth:
Open are the gifts of God,
Gifts of love to mind and sense;
Hidden is love's agony,
Love's endeavour, love's expense.
Love that gives, gives ever more,
Gives with zeal, with eager hands,
Spares not, keeps not, all outpours,
Ventures all, its all expends.
Drained is love in making full,
Bound in setting others free,
Poor in making many rich,
Weak in giving power to be.
Therefore he who shows us God
Helpless hangs upon the tree,
And the nails and crown of thorns
Tell of what God's love must be.
Here is God: no monarch he,
Throned in easy state to reign;
Here is God, whose arms of love,
Aching, spent, the world sustain.