Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation this morning and will be leaving the Petrine office on February 28, 2013. I arrived at the office today with the parking lot full of television trucks and a room full of reporters. I began with a brief statement which you can read by clicking here, knowing that the media gathered was likely looking for some hint of controversy or some deep, dark secret as to the “real” reason. For the full audio of the press conference, recorded by our Catholic radio station Spirit FM 90.5, please click here. I also knew I would have a better opportunity to share what I believe to be the truth here in this blog.
I believe the Holy Father has served the Church incredibly well throughout his entire life. Brilliant, patient and pastoral as priest, bishop, cardinal-prefect and pope, he has given his unique gifts to the Church and we have been enriched by them for many years prior to his election as the successor to St. Peter. He loves the Church and the Church should love him as he exits “stage right” to spend what time he has left in prayer, reflection, and hopefully writing. Ever the superb teacher, I would hope that there might be enough energy left in the man to continue to open the worlds of theology and scripture to us as he has done so beautifully with his three books on Jesus of Nazareth.
Seventy-eight years old when called to the chair of Peter as bishop of Rome, he summoned forth enormous personal energy to lead us for eight years. No one who has been in his presence, as I have had the privilege of being, could be anything but happy that his desire to withdraw from the physical, mental and emotional demands of the office have led him in his 85th year to wish to relinquish the office and all its demands. Wishing to spare us anything resembling a “death watch” and sensing that he has done what God has asked of him, he has given the Church one last gift. And, as I mentioned during the press conference, it should not have been a surprise to anyone. He said several times he would resign if he felt no longer able to lead the Church as God might wish of him or as he personally wished. Most all Popes today are selfless servants of the Gospel. Believe it or not, they live simply. There is no “rush” derived from the exercise of power and most dread the demands of administration. If elected, they must choose to serve, and if they choose to serve, they must sacrifice so many things that we hold important in our daily lives.
Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict are entirely different but I believe that the latter has survived very nicely any comparison to the former. They were good friends and held each other in esteem. Benedict did not try to be John Paul because it would not have worked. Comfortable in his own skin, Pope Benedict XVI led the faithful according to the mandate given to Peter by Christ and came to serve and not to be served. He has been a wonderful leader who has often been wounded by the actions of a few which have called into doubt the relevancy and credibility of the Church. Let me add here, knowing that this will upset some of his critics, that the bishops of this country and of the world have had no greater friend in addressing the issue of sexual misconduct than Josef Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. He got it early on and knew what was required for the ultimate purification of the Church.
Popes mean a lot to bishops. We recognize them as the supreme heads of our family of Roman Catholic Christianity. We wish to assist them in spreading the Gospel and shepherding Christ’s church. We do not wish to become simply another problem to them and we take an oath of loyalty to them. I have always admired and esteemed Pope Benedict, before and after his election. He was generally easy to serve, support and admire. I will miss him as will many other people in the Church and I wish him well in his final years, happy to have been in his service and the Lord’s when this humble successor of St. Peter decided to step aside and let another succeed to the throne which is really a cross.
Thank you, Pope Benedict, and may God give you strength and health for the remaining part of your earthly pilgrimage.