February 11, 2013.
There are certain dates that stand out in our mind as unforgettable. Depending on our age or historical sense dates like December 71941, November 22, 1963, and of course September 11, 2001 ring like bells in our memories. I say “of course” for the last named but one has to admit that as time goes on even “9-11” will become another “historical date” not a lived memory for future generations.
Today when I woke up I glanced at my “smart phone” to see an “alert”: “Pope Announces Resignation”.
At first I thought that I was still groggy from sleep or perhaps some guy named “Pope” whom I’d never heard of was famous enough that his resignation merited a news alert.
Pope Benedict XVI announced to an astonished group of Cardinals (and to the whole Church) in the words that headline this entry that for reasons of failing health he was resigning the “Petrine Ministry”, the Papacy, as of 8 PM Rome time February 28th. No Pope has “resigned” or abdicated the Papacy in over 600 years. An event thought theoretically possible; an exercise in “what if’s” for canon lawyers, is to be a very stark reality. In 17 days from this writing (February 11) Pope Benedict XVI will hear the clock strike eight PM in Rome and will become Bishop Joseph Ratzinger,Retired (?). That morning I will offer Mass and commemorate “Benedict our Pope”. That afternoon (our time) there will be no Pope to commemorate until the next Conclave meets and elects a new Pope.
As of this date it is announced he will go into prayerful seclusion and play no part whatsoever in the election of his successor or in the governance of the Church.
I must tell you I am still too stunned to assimilate the news or even begin to appreciate the reasons for it. Like most of you I had come to view being the Successor of Saint Peter, the Supreme Pontiff and Pastor of the Universal Church, the Vicar of Christ on Earth as a life-time vocation to end when the Lord saw fit by death.
Much comment has ensued in the secular media, much of it uninformed if not deliberately hostile. Frankly I wish that that the Vatican spokesmen could be more forthcoming and indeed illuminating as to the state of the Pope’s health and state of mind.
I can only silently and with trust in the Providence of God pray for the man who is our Pope until February 28thand his intentions as well as for the man who will succeed to the Shoes of the Fisherman to use the evocative title of a novel and movie of some years ago.