Pope Benedict’s decision to renounce the papacy has shocked the world. For most people, inside and outside of the Church and the Vatican, it was an unexpected and remarkable event. We are all deeply touched, and are still trying to understand the import and significance of the Pope’s action.
But, to be honest, it's a decision that is more surprising to those who do not know him than to those who know him well and have followed him closely. He spoke clearly of this possibility at unexpected times, in the book-length interview “Light of the World”; he had a way of always speaking discreetly and prudently about the future duties of his pontificate; he made perfectly clear that he considered the papacy a mission that he had received, rather than a power that he possessed. It was not false humility when he described himself, at the beginning of his papacy, as “a humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.” He was always careful to conserve his physical strength, in order to better fulfill the immense task that had been entrusted to him so unexpectedly, when he was already quite advanced in age.
His act is one of admirable human and Christian wisdom, on the part of a man who has lived in the sight of God, in the faith of the freedom of spirit; one who knows his responsibilities and his abilities; and one who, with his resignation, sees new prospects for renewed service and new hope. It is a great act of governance of the Church. It is a decision made not, as some think, because Pope Benedict felt he was no longer able to guide the Roman Curia, but because the major problems facing the Church and the world today, which he fully appreciates, require great strength and a length of office that is proportionate to pastoral initiatives of great breadth and no small length of time.
Benedict is not abandoning us in times of difficulty. He is inviting the Church to entrust herself with confidence to the Holy Spirit and to a new Successor of Peter. In these days, he says, he has felt, almost physically, the intensity of prayer and of love that accompanies him. We, in turn, feel the unique intensity of his prayer and of his affection for his Successor and for us. We can expect this spiritual relationship to become even deeper and stronger than before — an intense communion in absolute freedom.
This post originally posted on Vatican Radio.