Needless to say, we were all surprised by Pope Benedict’s announcement of his resignation. While certainly not unheard of and not impossible, the departure of Pope Benedict XVI from the See of Rome stuns us, for we are accustomed to life-long papacies. Not to mention that Pope Benedict had previously given no indication that he would step down.
The events of today and the next weeks will likely stand out in the long history of the Church. And while many will speculate as to why Pope Benedict made this decision, I wonder if we should consider the profound humility that it takes for a man to make such a choice.
Pope Benedict’s greatest sermon as pontiff may just be heard in these final days of his papacy, albeit not in words but in action. His humility teaches us that the papacy is not about the man who serves as pope, but that it is about a ministry of service, not only to the diocese of Rome but also to the universal Church. He who is elected Bishop of Rome serves the Church as the shepherd of unity, a witness of the life-giving message of the Gospel in a world so often torn by suffering. Pope Benedict’s announcement is a testament not only of his integrity, but also of the importance of the papacy for us today.
Ought we to be alarmed by the Pope’s news? I think not, for we believe and trust that the Holy Spirit is among us and know that Christ promised to be with us always. God is at work and God’s presence is among us today. Is the nature of papacy changing? Certainly. It has been adapting for over 2000 years and will continue to do so as the needs of the Church and the world change. For now, however, we pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and presence among us as we continue to share the Gospel with all people.