No chair had ever been so huge. Of this, my six-year-old self was certain. Warm, worn, and wonderful, the ample armchair stood out with the singularity of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Amidst all the other chairs in the room, this chair was different—it was forbidden. This chair was Dad’s.
But the similarities between the chair and the tree ended there. Unlike the third chapter of Genesis, no snake tempted my sisters and me to claim our father’s throne. Only Dad sat in the big red chair—that was the rule—and we were fine with it. Why? Because when Dad sat in the chair, we sat on Dad. As the arms of the chair embraced him, so his arms embraced us, and we were happy.
Though no one ever said as much, the chair meant Dad. It was a cozy, carmine symbol of fatherhood—sure and strong, structured and safe. When Dad took his seat in the chair, everything was right with the world.
The reverse was also true. Even a young boy found the empty chair filled with meaning. The vacant seat spoke silently of a vacant house and a child’s want. Dad is not home. Dad is not here. Where is he?
Two o’clock today will mark the emptiness of the world’s most important chair.
Those outside the Church often see the See of Peter as an imposing, patriarchal power structure. But for Catholics, the vibrancy of faith makes the Petrine office far more personal. The Pope is our father. We neither want his throne nor resent his authority. His presence indicates a divinely instituted order, and something is missing when he’s not there.
This afternoon, we will look with longing at an empty chair. Dad will not be home. Our Holy Father will not be there, and we will truly miss him. This sorrow is a bittersweet good, because it expresses the love of children for their father. No son wants to see his father go. No boy likes the sight of his dad’s chair empty.
But our mother the Church sees the heartache of her sons and daughters. She comes to us, wraps us in her arms, and comforts us:
Don’t worry, he’ll be home soon.
Image: Frank Moss Bennett, An Attic Room in the Derelict Manor