Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. (2 Kings 2:11)
Last Thursday was Pope Benedict XVI's last day on the job. By resigning the papacy he set a new precedent for any future Pope who reaches an age where he cannot function in the job. He also created a new title for a retired Pope, Roman Pontus Emeritus.
The most interesting image from the day was Benedict's departure. Deliberate or not it looked as if the Vatican took a page out of the Old Testament. Elijah-like, in a chariot of "white" fire Benedict was "translated" out of Vatican City. What staging! Andrew Lloyd Webber couldn't have done it better.
Now the attention is drawn to the gathering of Cardinals who will soon be locked into the Sistine Chapel. The world will be looking for the white smoke to rise from the chimney signaling the election of a new Pope. The next Pope will be faced with a church struggling to solve monumental problems, such as the many cases of priest sex abuse. It will be fascinating to watch this selection to see how the Roman Catholic Church conducts its future business.
The Papacy, St. Peter's Basilica and the setting of Vatican City in the heart of Rome is tailor-made for such a spectacle as Benedict's departure this week. The world stops and wonders at such scenes and then life goes on as usual. In a short time a new Pope will come out on the balcony and wave to the world and the mystery and pageantry will again cause the world to pause.
Religion is still a powerful feature in the midst of an secular age. Jesus described a time of religious deception. “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many" (Matthew 24:4,5). What happens in the Roman Catholic Church is important to watch.