Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Protestant meets a Papabile

Marc Cardinal Ouellet
In the Fall of 1999, I wasn't even a Catholic, but I was sitting the fence, and my friend Mike Dauphinais invited me to a conference in Chicago put on by the Lumen Christi Institute. 

I went, partly out of curiosity, to see what a Catholic conference on theology and Scripture might be like.  Many of the talks were unexceptional—I remember some Scripture scholar struggling valiantly for an hour trying to show how some source-critical approach permitted deep spiritual insights, an effort that is something like watching a man attempt to fly with the aid of a shovel. 

However, I was rudely awakened from the mid-afternoon nap this talk had induced by the next speaker, a certain obscure French-Canadian priest by the name of Fr. Marc Ouellet.  Fr. Ouellet launched into an anlysis of "nuptial imagery in the Passion according to St. John," and it was the most bizarre and beautiful theological lecture I have ever heard.  It was life-changing in a literal sense: it started me on a quest to examine nuptial themes in the Gospel of John, and then in all of Scripture—a quest I have been on ever since, as my students and colleagues will attest.  Not only was Fr. Ouellet's talk intellectually stimulating, it was spiritually moving, as were his interventions during the subsequent panel discussion, during which he spoke passionately about the presence of the Kingdom of God in each believer's heart.

I approached Fr. Ouellet after the talk and thanked him for his lecture and his remarks afterward, which were the freshest breath of the Gospel I had heard during the entire conference.  He accepted the compliments graciously and we had a short discussion about Scripture and evangelization before he had to go to the next meeting.

After that Chicago event was over, I kept my ears pricked for news about Fr. Ouellet, and occasionally did google searches to see if he was publishing anything.  A few years later, while scanning a Catholic news site, my eye caught that John Paul II had made him a bishop.  A year after that, he was made Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada.  A year after that, he was created a Cardinal.  Three years ago, Pope Benedict XVI brought him to Rome and made him prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, an important role that involves advising the Pope concerning episcopal appointments around the world.

Now Cardinal Ouellet is locked up in the Sistine Chapel, helping to choose the next Roman Pontiff.  In fact, people are saying that he is one of the more likely papabili himself.  Truly, God only knows if he will be chosen the next successor of Peter, but I will say that I am glad that a man like him, whose enthusiasm for the Gospel stood out so much in a crowd of scholars fourteen years ago, is among those voting for the next Pope.  Many of his fellow Cardinals are of like mind and Spirit.  I think the future of the Church is in good hands.

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