The news that Pope Benedict XVI plans to resign at the end of this month came as a surprise and, in some ways, a shock simply because this is the first time in modern history that this has happened. Yet, this announcement speaks to the greatness of our Holy Father and his ability to recognize the needs of the Church Universal today and his own ability to handle the demands of the Papal office. He has the courage, humility and honesty simply to say that it would be better that someone with more energy serve as Chief Shepherd of the Church at this time.
Pope Benedict XIV said he prayed for God’s guidance and came to the conclusion that he was no longer physically up to the demands of the papacy. The Holy Father made that decision out of love for Christ, love for Christ’s Church and love for us. He said, “It’s time.”
Papal ministry today, more than ever, involves a ministry of presence. It often requires extensive travel around the world to visit and pray with the faithful. When Pope Benedict said he does not have the energy to continue, it underscores the physical stamina needed to carry out the multitude of responsibilities as Pope in our day. He also recognizes how we live in an age of instantaneous communication where social media dominate how we relate to one another, and he feels his ability to do all of that well has diminished.
In two upcoming Masses, I will reflect on the role of the papacy and offer thanks for Pope Benedict. On Friday, February 22, at 12:10 p.m. at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Washington, I will celebrate a Mass for the Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. Then on Sunday, February 24, at noon, I will celebrate a Mass of Thanksgiving for Pope Benedict XVI at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, before I leave for Rome to join other cardinals from around the world to prepare for a conclave to elect a new Pope, the successor to the Chair of Saint Peter. Pope Benedict’s resignation takes effect on February 28.
To learn more about Pope Benedict and the papacy during this time of transition, I invite you to read some special resources created by the Archdiocese of Washington, The Keys to the Kingdom.
The Pope’s announcement evokes feelings of gratitude to God and to the Holy Father himself for the gift of Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholic Church around the world and to our own archdiocese. Five years ago the Archdiocese of Washington welcomed Pope Benedict XVI on his historic Apostolic Visit to Washington. At the Papal Mass at Nationals Park, nearly 50,000 people filled the new stadium from throughout our metropolitan area and from across the country. We looked to him then – as we do today – for renewed inspiration to continue the challenge to make all things new in Christ, our hope.
During that 2008 pastoral visit to the United States, first in Washington and then in New York, Pope Benedict XVI said he had come “as a witness to Christ our hope,” and he encouraged the nation’s Catholics to take the theme of the papal visit to heart, and be a source of Christ’s love and hope to their families, their communities, their nation and their world.
In his homily at Nationals Park, Pope Benedict called on us to carry out the Apostles’ work in living out and sharing the Gospel in our daily lives, to be enlivened by the Holy Spirit to bring about a new Pentecost in our world, to take up the call of the New Evangelization to a world that is at a crossroads and needs such witnesses.
The Holy Father concluded his homily at Nationals Park by saying, “Those who have hope must live different lives! (cf. ‘Spe Salvi,’ 2). By your prayers, by the witness of your faith, by the fruitfulness of your charity, may you point the way toward that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to his church and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior.”
We in the Archdiocese of Washington will always cherish that gift of Pope Benedict XVI, knowing that as we share the gift of faith, we are honoring the legacy of this good shepherd, teacher of the faith and pastor of souls, who came as a witness of Christ’s love and hope and asked us to do the same.