February 11, 2013, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation from the Papacy effective February 28, 8 p.m. Rome time. Perhaps those closest to him knew he was going to do this, but obviously many in the Vatican and Curia were taken totally by surprise based on their own words. Certainly the faithful the world over were shocked. I know I woke up today completely dumbfounded.
Popes have resigned before for various reasons, but it’s been 597 years since Pope Gregory XII voluntarily stepped down at the behest of the Council of Constance in order to end the Western Schism. Until today, no other Pope has resigned his ministry.
In his official resignation letter Pope Benedict wrote:
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church.
After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, [his decision was not a spur of the moment affair but one taken after much prayer and discernment] 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. [The Pope doesn’t shrink from the demands of his office, nor the prayer and suffering that it requires. He has become too physically weak to carry on.] For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom [the Pope cannot be forced to resign by anyone] I declare that I renounce the ministry [the office of the papacy is one of service just as Christ emphasized at the Last Supper when He washed the feet of the apostles] 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.
Dear Brothers, 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. [How many outgoing Presidents or Governors of countries would ask for pardon? A beautiful example here of humility. Nobody’s perfect. Is it not important to ask for pardon for our failures or defects of leadership?] 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.
From the Vatican, 10 February 2013
BENEDICTUS PP XVI
The Holy Father will go to Castel Gondolfo to rest until he can return to the Vatican and reside in a cloistered monastery there, spending the rest of his life in prayer and penance. He will not be on the world stage again, nor will he have any role in the governance of the Church, but his legacy as a great teacher and theologian will endure. I am very grateful for his motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum, his encyclicals, and his books. Most of all I am grateful for his holiness and example, and his fearless declaration of the Gospel and Church teachings. I am very sad to see him step down, but I believe he is doing the right thing for the Church and the world.
Last night I woke up and was thinking about all the kinds of sin in the world. Sex trafficking in East Asia, the belligerent oppression of the communist Kim dictatorship of North Korea, the kidnapping and forced labor of children in Africa and Asia, the worldwide drug syndicates, the corruption of Wall Street, the United Nation policies of abortion and contraception, the abortion machines in all countries of the world, the Chinese one child policy and forced abortion there, vivisection of Uigurs by the Chinese for human organ transplants, the Obama administration’s death care policies, and on and on.
“Lord,” I prayed, “we need a whole lot of monasteries of contemplatives, each dedicated to the eradication of a specific sin to pray for deliverance of this world from those evils. I wish I could put one full of holy souls near the centers of all these evils to do spiritual combat.” When I heard of the Pope’s plans I thought that maybe God was showing me His plan – sic the German Shepherd on the evils of this world from behind the cloister walls. Not conventional warfare, but powerful nonetheless. Perhaps it will inspire many others, especially retired bishops to do the same. Power retiring in dignity and humility but still working invisibly for the salvation of souls.
No one knows how much longer God will leave Benedict on this earth but we were very blessed to have him for our Pope. We can be sure that the next Holy Father will need our prayers and penance just as much as this one. Whatever our Lenten intentions are, maybe we should add the intention of offering up our fasting, abstinence, prayers, almsgiving, suffering and good works for the strength of the next Pope to fearlessly lead the world to Christ and carry on the legacy of Ratzinger.
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R. Now and forever!
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