pope benedict resigns

Vatican Pope Resigns

“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

I woke up this morning to the news of the papal resignation. It came as a surprise to all. The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who resigned in 1415 in the middle of a Church schism. Pope Benedict made the announcement in Latin, and the official English translation can be read here.

Many thoughts went through my mind. To give the Pope the utmost credit, it takes a wise person to acknowledge when they are no longer able to fulfill their duties to the best of their abilities. We can all cite leaders, great and small, who remained in their positions well past their ‘due date’. Whether it is a leader of a nation, a CEO of a corporation or a teacher in a class-room, a clear-minded stepping down is a sign that one is taking into account the greater good of those they serve rather than clinging to their position. For this, I have the utmost respect.

Another interesting point is made by Brian Flanagan on the Daily Theology blog.

The best thing about Benedict’s announced resignation is that it helps restore our understanding of the papacy to that of an office rather than a personal possession. The pope exercises his authority as the bishop of Rome and, because of that, the universal pastor, as the head of a local church, not because of a permanent change in his personal status (like being baptized, being ordained or being made a cardinal)… The papacy can now be clearly seen as a crucial office of the universal church, but one in which the pope remains an officeholder, rather than an irreplaceable, magical figure. I’d bet €20, if the Vatican could accept credit cards, that Benedict is doing this with a great deal of conscious awareness of the ecclesiological, and not just the practical, implications for future papacies. The precedent may well be his greatest gift to the church.

This is an incredibly important possibility to consider. If the papacy is understood as a ministry rather than an oncological change in a person, it allows us to view it in more human terms. Yes, it is still a vocation as is any ministry that we embrace as a calling from God – whether it is our professional work, marriage, or parenting. But, if being elected Pontiff doesn’t automatically raise you high above all other humans, then this might force us to re-think the whole question of infallibility. Yes, it might still be the most powerful office in the Church. But, the Pope is not necessarily the wisest or most perfect human on earth.

The skeptical side of me, and this wee demon seems to have a permanent roost on my shoulder, wonders if this move was made to guarantee that the Pope would have a hand in choosing his successor. How much political maneuvering would he (could he) do to ensure that the ‘reform of the reform’ currently underway does not get waylaid by the election of a more progressive-minded Pope? How much influence would he have over a new Pope?

As the questions are asked, answers are already coming from Fr. Federico Lombardi at the Vatican press office. A conclave to choose the new Pope will take place next month, with an election taking place before Holy Week. No, Benedict will not be attending the conclave. (Current canon law states that Cardinals over the age of 80 are ineligible to vote in a conclave.) After his resignation, he will spend the rest of his days in prayer and study in an enclosed monastery on the Vatican grounds.

I was eager to see what today’s liturgical readings would provide in light of all this news. The first reading went back to the first words in the Bible, the well-known creation story of Genesis. In the beginning…..

Our church is in the midst of much turmoil. We are in the Year of Faith, yet current head-lines challenge our faith in the church. The sexual abuse crises continue to grow around the world. All eyes are on Australia now, as another national story is about to boil over. There is a growing divide over issues such as gay marriage and women’s ordination. Pews continue to empty, but a deep spiritual hunger remains in the hearts and souls of many women and men. But, perhaps it is the proverbial ‘groaning’ before the birth of something new?

I believe that it is not a time to go back to some perceived ‘golden age’ in the church, when priests were priests, and lay women and men knew their place. I do believe that it is a time to go back to the beginning – to the gospels words and actions of Jesus. We need to enter into a time of conversion, of turning hearts from stone to flesh, of a turning back to the roots of faith – a turning back to God. Yes, we as a church are being called to enter into a serious period of Lent.

Of course, we do not have a vote in the upcoming conclave. But, we do have a voice in prayer. Let us unite in prayer in thanksgiving for this moment, for perhaps it is truly a graced moment. Let us pray for blessings and peace for Pope Benedict. And may our prayers storm the heavens to send down the Holy Spirit on the Cardinals who will meet to discern his successor.

May the answer to our prayers be the hope of new beginnings.

6 thoughts on “pope benedict resigns

  1. I do believe that it is a time to go back to the beginning – to the gospels words and actions of Jesus. We need to enter into a time of conversion, of turning hearts from stone to flesh, of a turning back to the roots of faith – a turning back to God.

    Isabella, this reminds me of yesterday’s Gospel readings too,

    He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
    In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts.’
    You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.” Mk:7

    Yes, it is time to go back to the gospels words and actions of Jesus. To invoke the Holy Spirit for guidance. May all be well….

    • A big and hearty AMEN!!!, Lorna! I hope and pray that the Cardinals prepare for the upcoming conclave with a renewed intensity, opening their hearts to the readings and calls for conversion as never before….

  2. The good old days “when priests were priests, and lay women and men new their place” are thankfully gradually fading away. So what then is our place? Blessed John Paul II gave us an idea of our place in the Church in his remarks to some US Bishops on their ad limina visits on May 28, 2004…”Now is above all the hour of the lay faithful, who, by their specific vocation to shape the secular world in accordance with the Gospels, are called to carry forward the Church’s prophetic mission by evangelizing the various spheres of family, social, professional, and cultural life.” Baptism plundges us into sharing the mission of Christ. Each of us, not just some of us, are called to do our part in sanctifying and evangelizing our little part of the world. Truthfully, to respond to this call, it doesn’t matter who is Pope. Still, I will be praying for the Cardinals to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the upcoming conclave.

    • Ah, Dan….you put words to some thoughts that have been rumbling in my head these past days. Why should it matter who the Pope is? Are we not the people of God? And yet, sadly, it does seem to matter….just as who your pastor or bishop are shouldn’t matter, but it does. The wrong person can cause so much damage – communally and personally.

      I really do believe that something big is brewing, a momentous time in our church. Are we, the Baptized, ready? Are we ready to let go of the old structures of unhealthy dependency and take responsibility for the spreading of God’s word alongside (not below) our priests, bishops, religious brothers and sisters?

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