Just a few months ago, I read an interesting book titled The Pope Who Quit that tells the fascinating tale of the election and subsequent resignation of Pope Celestine V in 1294, the only pope to ever abdicate the Chair of St. Peter. That story provides a context for us to understand just how historic is the announcement of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.
Given the significance of this moment, it is evident that our Holy Father has grappled mightily with his decision and, more than anything else, it beckons us to keep him in prayer as he struggles with his health.
So, why is this such a big deal for us Catholics?
First, because it just doesn’t happen! In 2000 years, this is only the 2nd time we will have a “retired” pope in our midst. Secondly, and more importantly, the Pope is much more than the CEO of the Catholic Church. He is a symbol of unity for the 800 million Catholics worldwide as well as a symbol of the presence of Christ in our midst, who leads and guides us, by virtue of his Holy Spirit, through the Magisterium of the Church. As a Church, we turn to Scripture and Tradition – one single deposit of faith – as our source of authority. The “office” of pope is part of that living Tradition, so, yes, it is a big deal when a transition occurs at that level.
As the media now begins its wild speculation of Benedict’s successor, let us turn to that same Holy Spirit to calmly pray for the guidance and inspiration that our bishops will need to select someone who will lead us to continue to faithfully fulfill Christ’s mission.