Well . . .
I’ll admit this is NOT what I thought I’d be posting today. I’m rather stunned.
I walked into the sacristy today and greeting our deacon who said, “Good morning. Did you hear the pope is retiring?”
No. I hadn’t.
I was told it was all over the news so upon return to the rectory I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down with our newspapers. Not so much as a hint that anything was going on.
A phone call came in from a radio station wanting a comment. I had no idea what to say. (What do you say?) Finally I got to my computer and read up on the whole thing (with as much information as is available.) READ THE POPE’S OWN WORDS HERE.
Now, it is not so much that someone is retiring from the office that kind of made me step back for a moment, but that a pope has resigned (for the first time in centuries.) When I was in the seminary there was discussion as to whether a pope could resign. (Are you pope for life? Or is it merely an office? What if, after you retire, you change your mind? Well, if it is merely an office, too bad for you. If you are pope for life who voluntarily steps down, can you step back up? Does it annul the office of the other pope? Do we have two popes? Even if we don’t, each thinking that he is the one who will save the Church from utter destruction, each takes those loyal to him and causes a schism? THAT’s why we waist valuable time in the seminary thinking about such things.)
From the time that I was in junior high school (public school – the Catholic kids were allowed out of class to watch the election – can’t see that happening today) I’d only known Pope John Paul. It was rather difficult, in my priesthood, to become accustomed to saying, “and Benedict our pope” at the Mass.
Now that I have thought about it a little bit, good for the pope to put the good of the Church ahead of holding an office. But one of the things that I appreciated about John Paul was that even in his infirmities, he held on to the office. It was a great message: we find all humans valuable even if they are not up to doing what they once could.” But I understand that I don’t know what goes on behind papal palace walls or how physically and mentally difficult it must be to have attained his age and wake up each morning knowing that you are the pope. That could be a strain beyond comprehension.
So here is a note to arm-chair historians and teachers: This is an historic moment. Popes don’t retire every day. It happens so rarely that there was question as to whether he could do it at one point. So pay attention. This is one for the history books and you get to live it.