Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We were all taken by surprise by last week’s news. It is many centuries since a Pope has resigned and hardly anyone foresaw that Pope Benedict would do so. Canon Law, however, allows a Pope to resign. Pope Benedict has done so freely and in a proper form. So there can be no doubt that from 8 pm (GMT) on 28 February, Pope Benedict will cease to be the Bishop of Rome and Successor of St Peter, and the Chair of St Peter will be vacant.
Here is what he said: ‘In today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of St Peter and proclaim the Gospel, 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 recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.’ This is honest and brave, and whatever emotions we may feel, we can admire this gesture of the Pope. It is typical of the man. He is not running away from responsibility; he is recognising his limits. Any who have seen him celebrating the Mass will have noticed how small he makes himself before the mystery of what is being celebrated. Now he is recognising his own smallness before the ministry of the successor of St Peter. He is putting the good of the Church before any temptation to position or power. This in itself is a teaching we can be grateful for. In its simple, decisive way, it crowns all he has done for the Church over the last 8 years.
The Holy Father made his announcement just before Lent. Lent is a time for recognising our need and God’s all-embracing mercy. Lent is a call to prayer. So, let’s use this season to pray for the Church, to pray with Pope Benedict as he prepares to dedicate himself to a life of prayer. Let us pray for the College of Cardinals as they prepare to elect a new Pope, and in this Year of Faith let us be serenely trusting that Christ continues to guide his Church through time to eternity.
“Then the Lord, jealous on behalf of his land, took pity on his people” (Jl 2:18).