I’ve been saying this morning that if John Paul II showed us how to die, Pope Benedict XVI is showing us how to step aside in humility and love. But it is so much more than that even. He shows us how to live.
The pope’s resignation statement is extraordinary. And it’s not the resigning itself that is the most important part for each one of us. Maybe you’ve read it. Maybe you just know the headline. Regardless, read it again. Especially this:
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry. I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
This is a man of the deepest faith. With the fullest knowledge of the world and its realities. And yet he knows with some certainty what God wants of him. What the world needs of him. It takes tremendous prayer to be able to have some peace and certainty to make a move like this.
This is a lesson to us. One as profound as the walk through suffering and death Blessed John Paul II took with us.
This is what George Weigel and I were talking about last week when JPII’s biographer talked about our call to friendship with Christ.
In that interview book, Light of the World, the Holy Father told journalist Peter Seewald:
As far as the Pope is concerned, he too is a simple beggar before God—even more than all other people. Naturally I always pray first and foremost to our Lord, with whom I am united simply by old acquaintance, so to speak. But I also invoke the saints. I am friends with Augustine, with Bonaventure, with Thomas Aquinas. Then one says to such saints also: Help me! And the Mother of God is, in any case, always a major point of reference. In this sense I commend myself to the communion of saints. With them, strengthened by them, I then talk with the dear Lord also, begging, for the most part, but also in thanksgiving—or quite simply being joyful.
This is the Christian life. We are not alone. And the world does not rely on us, but on Him. And so we are faithful. We pray that, every hour of everyday, He increases, as we decrease. Never running away, always following the lead of the Trinity.
And so Pope Benedict XVI is.