We were all shocked on Monday, February 11th, when the Holy Father announced that he was resigning from his office as Bishop of Rome and Successor of St. Peter. Of course, this is provided for in Canon Law (c. 332 – §2), but it has been done so rarely that it seems like a surprising novelty. Pope Celestine V, monk and hermit, resigned after a five-month reign in 1294. Pope Gregory XII (1406-1415) abdicated in order to put an end to the Great Schism and restore peace to the Church. But the examples are few and far between. Pope Benedict stated quite simply that he doesn’t have the physical strength any more to guide the bark of Peter. After all, in April he’ll be 86 years old.
In his 2010 interview with Peter Seewald (cf. Light of the World, pp. 29-30), Pope Benedict mentioned the theoretical possibility of a pope resigning, so it’s something that he’s thought about before. His gesture is one of considerable courage, and humility, and faith in Divine Providence: it’s the Lord’s Church, not the pope’s Church.
Yet, having said all that, I personally feel a huge ache. I received the news with tears. He has been such a light, his wisdom has charted a course for the Church in continuity with the tradition, his preaching has been so inspiring, his gentleness so remarkable. He has been a father to us, a grandfather, a wise and holy man. He has always had a special place in the affection of our community.
Of course, man doesn’t live forever, and we all can see that the Holy Father has grown weaker in the last few months. I wish him a time of peace and tranquility so that, having laid aside this terrible burden, he can say with St. Paul: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day… (2 Tm 4:7-8). Let’s pray even more intensely for our dear Pope Benedict, and let’s pray especially for the Church in this very delicate moment of her history.