This is yet another entry in a set of posts about things that I tell my sisters. It may not make much sense to you if you do not come from the same place as my sisters and I do.
What I tell my sisters about Pope Benedict’s resignation.
Shortly after I walked in the door from work, one of my sisters announced that she and my other sister wanted me to tell them why the Pope quit.
It is not so much that Pope Benedict is quitting, as he is dedicating himself to prayer and making space for someone else to lead the Church. The Pope is old and sick and tired. Before Pope Benedict was pope, he watched John Paul II get very sick. He saw, perhaps as closely as anyone possibly could, how the Church continued on without the Pope’s active leadership, even though there was technically a pope since John Paul II was still alive. Pope Benedict knows more than we ever could about how not only the Church as a whole, but the Vatican itself works, and what it means to have a Pope who cannot fulfill his responsibilities due to deteriorating health.
In general, bishops resign at the age of 75, and cardinals over the age of 80 do not vote when it is time to choose the next pope. Pope Benedict is 85 years old. He is the bishop of Rome, and as such, he has special rights and responsibilities. But any other bishop would have been relieved of this tremendous burden years ago. The Catholic Church does not generally teach that leaders are to be crushed by the weight of their duties until they are dead.
Canon law holds that “A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.” No one can require the Bishop of Rome to resign. Everyone should accept with humility the decision of the Bishop of Rome to act with humility in declaring what is best for the Church due to the limitations of his health.
Lent is a time of penance and change as we make our way to the joys of Easter. The suffering involved with this transition is wonderfully timed for this season. It is a perfect time to thank God quietly for the gift of the papacy and of Joseph Ratzinger’s incredibly lengthy ministry.