What's that? You're trying to get excited, but you just ... can't? Don't feel bad; it happens to everybody, once in a while. Maybe you just need to relax and put on some music to get you in the mood.
May we suggest Palestrina? Because, really, what would sound better, echoing through the Sistine Chapel? And obviously, that's what we're talking about here: getting in the mood to enjoy the greatest unseen spectacle in the world, the gathering of Rome's cardinal-priests in conclave, as they elect a new bishop for their fair city.
It can be hard to build up much enthusiasm, and not just for Protestants. These gatherings are, by their nature, intensely secretive. This means that, although people all over the world are eager to know who is selected, virtually none have any idea how he is selected. The whole world is involved, and the whole world is shut out. It's a little disorienting.
So we suggest a little background reading, to provide a little information on how these things are done -- and, more important, on what they feel like to the participants.
You could read some nonfiction. John Allen's Conclave is, unquestionably, the place to start: a seasoned journalist's look at the what is coming this year, taking into account the current rules and the current players (at least as of a few years ago).. We're ordering a copy tonight. Or maybe The Conclave, by Michael Walsh, a look at the history of papal elections. (As you've noticed, writers on this subject don't place much value on original titles).
But non-fiction is so ... non-fictional. We much prefer novels, and there are some famous ones to choose from. Here are a few:
The Cardinal, by Henry Morton Robinson (1950). An oldie but a goodie, about a young American priest who makes good. It has some great set-pieces: on a swing through the South, the priest is beaten up for wearing his collar; in Boston, he risks his own life to give last rites to a man trapped by a construction accident. The Vatican scenes feel very lifelike, as they combine politics and culture; we especially remember two archbishops quoting Horace from memory. It's a solid read, plus the author lived in our hometown.
The Shoes of the Fisherman, by Morris West (1963). A Russian bishop is released from the Gulag and, through an unlikely chain of events, becomes Pope Kiril. He ends the Cold War, gives away the Church's fortunes, and drives Teilhard de Chardin to suicide.
The Vicar of Christ, by Walter F. Murphy (1980). An American monk is released from the Supreme Court (seriously, he was Chief Justice, as a well as a Medal of Honor winner) and through an unlikely chain of events becomes pope. He then solves all the world's problems and is assassinated. Notable for the least likely premise of any novel ever written including those featuring starships and time machines, as well as for the striking contention that, despite what you've heard, the Roman Catholic Church has an endowment roughly equal to Harvard's.
The Final Conclave, by Malachi Martin (1978). We haven't read it, but Martin was a former Jesuit and an able scholar, so this one probably has some inside dope. It certainly seems to have some actual theology. Maybe we'll read this instead of the the non-fiction one.