For 2,000 years, the Church has been blessed and guided by a successor of St. Peter
The Church is now without a Pope—the See of Peter is vacant. Although he who was called Benedict XVI still is with us, we nonetheless mourn the passing of his pontificate, lifting him up with our prayers as he continues to serve Christ and his Church in a life of dedicated prayer. But as so often has occurred over the 2,000-year history of the Church, a miracle is being repeated that will give us much cause to rejoice and give thanks.
The Church prayerfully joins together in a special way with the 117 cardinal electors, Cardinal Justin Rigali among them, as they prepare to enter the conclave, calling upon the Holy Spirit to guide them in choosing the next pope. Soon, the whole world will pause and keep vigil outside the closed doors of the Sistine Chapel and anxiously watch for the appearance of white smoke.
With the world’s news networks and media descending upon Rome, and bringing with them their doubts as to whether the Church can rise again under a new pope, the scene is almost reminiscent of Pilate’s posting of a guard of soldiers at the tomb of Christ (Matthew 27:65-66). The media will keep vigil with “expert” narrations and will have guest spots for those who will criticize the Church and make dour predictions of the Church’s demise if it does not conform to the ways and demands of the world.
But with every attack upon the Church, I am reminded of the words Christ directed to St. Peter—“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). And just as the Church has done since the first century following St. Peter’s martyrdom, and guided by the Holy Spirit, a successor to St. Peter will be elected.
A small chimney pipe atop the Sistine Chapel has become one of the most cherished symbols of the election of a new pope, and perhaps no other image is more fitting. Particularly during our 40-day Lenten journey, we recall the Exodus of Israel from the slavery of Egypt and the Israelites’ 40-year desert journey to the Promised Land. But so they would not lose their way in the inhospitable desert, we read in Scripture that “The Lord preceded them, in the daytime by means of a column of cloud to show them the way, and at night by means of a column of fire to give them light. Thus they could travel both day and night.” (Exodus 13:21).
I find it fascinating that the whole world stands in wait for the appearance of a “column of cloud,” one that will give sign that we have been blessed once again with the gift of a new visible head of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. Like the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites through the desert, day and night, the shepherd of the universal Church on earth helps to keep the light of Christ before us and to guide us to the Father’s house (Luke 2:49), that we might not stumble and become lost along the way.
It is my hope that you can attend the Masses that will be offered and join in praying with the entire Church:
O God, eternal shepherd, who
governs your flock with unfailing care, grant in your boundless fatherly love a pastor for your Church who will please you by his holiness and to us show watchful care.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
I look forward with you in prayerful anticipation of the news from the Vatican to be proclaimed in Latin meaning:
“I announce to you a great joy: We have a Pope! Habemus papam!