At age 85, Pope Benedict apparently felt now was the time to step aside. As he explained in his statement of resignation: "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry." He went on to explain that in fulfilling the role of Holy Father, "...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."
This act of resignation was first and foremost an act of faith. Jesus entrusted to St. Peter the role of being the shepherd of the Church on earth. After the Resurrection, Jesus told Peter three times to "Feed my lambs." "Tend my sheep." "Feed my sheep." (John 21:15-16) The Lord entrusted His own flock to St. Peter, the apostle whom was originally called Simon and whose name Jesus changed to Peter, the Rock, upon which Jesus promised to build His Church. (Mt 16:18) Peter was also the apostle to whom Jesus promised: "I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 16:19) Peter eventually moved to Rome, where he served in his ministry and where he was martyred. We believe that the ministry Jesus entrusted to Peter ("the Petrine Ministry"), did not die with Peter any more than the Church died with Peter. The early Church understood, and it has been passed on through the centuries, that whoever succeeds Peter as the Bishop of Rome, succeeds Peter in the ministry Jesus entrusted to Peter to strengthen the Church in faith and safeguard its unity. Pope Benedict, believing in how vitally important this ministry is to the people of the Church, came, through prayer, to feel called by God to relinquish it for the good of the Church.
This act of resignation was also an act of humility. It takes humility to admit ones limitations and to be willing to lay down prestige and authority so that another may take it up for the good of the Church. The role of Holy Father is a role of service. The traditional title of the Pope is "Servant to the Servants of God." He, as is true of all of us, is called to follow the Lord who said: "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve..." (Mt 20:28) At the same time, the office of Pope is surrounded at times by great pomp and beauty. The significance of the office can tempt frail human nature to lose sight of the Lord’s call to serve and not be served. It is obvious that this is not true of Pope Benedict. He has devoted himself to service and is willing to step aside from the trappings of office as his conscience directs.
Finally, this act was also an act of love. It was a sign of the love of a shepherd for the flock. The decision to retire, although brought about by the Holy Father examining the state of his health, was not at its core a decision focused upon him at all. It was a decision which at its core focused upon what is good for the flock. This shepherd was willing to act out of a genuine concern for the flock because of his love for the flock.
Let us pray for Pope Benedict, especially in this time of transition. Any transition in life, whether it is the first day of school, a wedding, or resigning from the Papacy, brings with it a mixture of emotions. We cannot know what emotions Pope Benedict is feeling, but we can pray for him. Please remember him in your prayers.
God Bless Pope Benedict.
Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Week, official newspaper for the diocese of Mobile.
Most Rev. Rodi is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama.