Monday, February 11, 2013, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, began quietly enough at least as far as the Church was concerned. There were lots of problems in the world but nothing particularly newsworthy as far as ecclesiastical affairs were concerned.
Then came the bomb!
Benedict XVI, the 265th successor of Peter as Bishop of Rome, announced that he was resigning from his office effective February 28th. Suddenly if you turned on the television set, all you saw was that story hour after hour. Commentators and reporters were hard-pressed to develop the story in any meaningful manner since it came as a complete surprise to everyone. They did not seem to have effective backup material in their archives.
Why should it have been such a surprise that a man in his late 80’s should retire from a leadership position in an organization of one billion, two hundred million scattered across nearly 200 countries? It was a surprise because frankly it comes very close to never happening. The last resignation, that of Gregory XII, was in 1415 and there have only been two or three such resignations in the entire 2,000 years of the Church’s existence.
I heartily congratulate our Holy Father. He assumed the responsibilities of the papacy at a very difficult time in the life of the Church. The numbers of priestly personnel were pathetically inadequate across the world. Both clergy and laity were frequently divided along the lines of being conservative or liberal, and the definition of those two words depended on who was using them. The pope mentioned his failing health and seeing him over the last five years on television made it obvious that the strain and the burdens were taking their toll. What to do now?
Speaking just for myself, I am hopeful that the Holy Father will enjoy a few more years of tranquility, prayer and study. I also pray that the transition process will work quickly and efficiently in bringing to the Church a new supreme pontiff who will have the vision, courage and stamina to lead the Church forward effectively during these extraordinarily difficult times.
May God bless Benedict XVI. May God guide the electors. May God bless the papacy.