When I first heard that Pope Benedict XVI was resigning, I was in shock. My instant reaction was: “That’s impossible!” I knew Popes had resigned before; I knew it was canonically possible; I just did not expect it. I dug out my Code of Canon Law, looked up “resignation,” and read this canon: “If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone” (Can. 332, §2).
Pope Benedict has been Pope for most of my years as an “adult Catholic”: I was confirmed the year Pope Benedict was elected. While John Paul II shaped my youth and inspired my child’s heart with love, Pope Benedict inspired me to grow in my Faith as a teenager and young adult. The summer after he was elected, I spent a lot of time on the Vatican website, reading his Angelus addresses and other writings; and I read his first encylical, Deus Caritas Est, with much excitement. Here was a Pope whose writings I could understand! (As much as I had loved John Paul II, I found him too philosophical to understand; the fact that Pope Benedict was a theologian appealed to me.) As someone who had attended the Latin Mass daily for several years, I rejoiced when he issued Summorum Pontificum in 2007.
And now, our Father is stepping down. In roughly 48 hours, the Chair of Peter will be empty. For several days, we will be “sedevacantists,” because the Chair of Peter will be empty. I’m saddened, and yet the phrase that keeps coming to mind is this: “I will not leave you orphans: I will come to you” (Jn. 14:18, Douay-Rheims). The Chair of Peter will not remain empty; Our Lord has promised us this: “I will not leave you orphans.” We are not being abandoned. Even though our Holy Father, the Vicar of Christ, our “Father” in the deepest spiritual sense of the word, is stepping down from his position, we are not orphans. ”I will raise up them up a prophet out of the midst of their brethren like to thee” (Dt. 18:18).
This man, who has led us and shepherded us for almost 8 years, will continue to lead us–by his example. On Facebook, I found this quote from the Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist Facebook page:
Pope John Paul II remained in office so that he might show us how to suffer and how to die. Pope Benedict XVI is leaving the Papal Office so that he might show us how to live in humble honesty.
Pope Benedict is stepping down to spend his life in prayer for the whole Church. Although he has prayed for the Church throughout the entirety of his life, he wants to give his life to prayer for the Church. He is not abandoning us; he is not leaving us orphans; rather, as a loving Father, he is giving us the greatest gift that he can give–the gift of his prayers.
Viva il Papa!