Yes. If a Pope clearly realizes that he is no longer physically, psychologically, and spiritually capable of handling the duties of his office, then he has a right and, under some circumstances, also an obligation to resign. — Benedict XVI
My Latin’s undeniably rusty, so as I listened to Papa Benedetto’s announcement this morning, I had little to go on behind inflection. And he sounded tired to me; incredibly tired, and deeply emotional — a reminder of the great courage he has shown in battling through his own age and frailty for the good of the Church.
Moments later, as I read his words to my assembled family, I suddenly found myself weeping. But it was not the fact of the resignation itself that moved me to tears. Nor was it any sense of anxiety or sorrow over what the future holds for my (and his) Church.
Instead, I found myself weeping at his thanks. And at his plea for pardon — a moment he could have easily (and understandably) forgone on this momentous occasion, but one that highlights just why we have come to love him so dearly:
I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.
There are hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of conflicting thoughts rushing through my mind at the moment, many of them barely formulated. But as I scanned the reactions of my friends and acquaintances this morning, Steven Greydanus’ thought captured my sentiments perfectly:
For Catholics who love our Holy Father, Lent started two days early this year.
— Steven D. Greydanus (@DecentFilms) February 11, 2013
Our Lenten focus just got a whole lot sharper, didn’t it? And our future just took on an entirely unexpected uncertainty. After a few years of wonderment over his age and health, I’d grown accustomed to thinking of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy as a “sure thing,” and one lasting far into the foreseeable future. The thought of someone else sitting in St. Peter’s chair could hardly have been further from my mind that it was this morning.
But at the same time, could there be a better season to pray earnestly, relentlessly for the future successor of Peter than these forty days? This time when the Catholic Church’s 1,000,000,000+ members join together in fasting and mortification? This is perfect, isn’t it? And yet another — perhaps the final — great gift from Papa Benedetto’ to his beloved Church.
This Lent will be not only mine and yours, but ours. This is the Catholic Church’s Lent. And that fills me with hope and joy, no matter my sadness at Benedict’s departure.
Because that’s the one great thing about Lent: it always ends with Easter. And at this moment, I take profound comfort in the words of his predecessor: