Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Letting Himself Become Small

What? A Pope resigns?

This hasn't happened in 600 years!!!

Why is Pope Benedict XVI taking this rare and peculiar step?

Sure, its happened a few times in history. But Benedict hasn't been imprisoned during a persecution like the early popes who resigned. And this is hardly like the wacky and chaotic period of the Council of Constance, 600 years ago, when there were three guys claiming to be the real pope. Add to the mix one of those always helpful (?) devout Catholic monarchs (the Emperor Sigismund), who decided to get involved, and....

Its a long story, but to get to the point, Pope Gregory XII (who was the legitimate pope) agreed to resign and gave the Council authority to choose his successor. Then the two antipopes were deposed. The Council appointed Gregory bishop of Frascati and Dean of the college of cardinals. But it took Constance two years to elect his successor, Martin V...which means that for two years the papacy was vacant, but the ex-pope was alive and well and cardinal bishop of a prestigious diocese right outside of Rome!

There have been some confusing times in the history of the Church. Most of the times of the Church have been confusing times. But she's still here.

Actually, Benedict's situation resembles more that of Pope St. Celestine V, who resigned at the end of the 13th century. In fact, he was a Benedictine monk who was plucked from his austere solitude and made bishop of Rome. He was incapable of the task, however, and resigned because he wanted to return to his life of prayer. (Note, the "St." in front of Celestine's name stands for Saint -- thus it would appear that resigning the papacy doesn't mean you're a bad person.)

Pope Benedict's reasons for resigning, whatever they may be, are born from his desire to follow Christ and serve the Church. He knows that the Church endures through the work of the Holy Spirit, and that this is a work of "reform in continuity." It is a work that remains vital at this unprecedented moment in the history of the human race.

The world is indeed in transition to a new epoch, fraught with unimaginable possibilities and unimaginable dangers. Benedict XVI has always known this. He has left an enduring legacy of wisdom for this emerging epoch. The great pain of his labors is not less for the fact that he has only now revealed it to us.

Still, his work is not finished. He is going forth to pray, to continue to seek the face of God. In this too, he teaches us.

In this new gigantic world of power, he is letting himself become small. He is embracing the poverty through which God works.