Proverbs 15:33 – The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honor is humility.
This time last year, I was standing in the Paul IV hall in the Vatican, waiting for the appearance of Pope Benedict XVI. Thousands of people, young and old, surrounded me. I was in awe of the love and warmth that each person held for the Pope. This was evident in the various joyous songs and voices that filled the room of people marked with the sign of ashes on their foreheads. When a very frail and small white-haired man slowly emerged onto the stage, the clapping, cheering and singing filled my heart with a joy I had never experienced before. Here was OUR Papa, our Pope, our Saint Peter, our Vicar of Christ.
And he still is. As of February 11th, Papa Benedicto has made the decision to resign his papacy at the end of the month. As I attend the Catholic University of America, you can imagine how many people reacted to this surprising news. There were words of worry, excitement, despair and hope. I was surprised myself, to find in fact that I wasn’t really surprised at all at the pope’s resignation! Even a year ago, it was extremely visible that the pope was suffering physically and mentally. He is tired. We could all see that. I think it is evident to us all that something wonderful and dramatic has been shifting within our Church for awhile now. Blessed John Paul II left us with a renewed sense of the mission of our Church and Pope Benedict has carried that charism beautifully as well as gifting the Church with his own teachings. As Pope Benedict has commented several times, our Church and people exist in a great and precise time of history. As his health is failing, Benedict is no longer able to properly carry out the mission of the Church. The reason I was not surprised with the Pope’s announcement is because I know that with the precise historical moment that the Church faces today, She must be in constant communication with the world at large. Pope Benedict’s state of health did not allow him to carry out this communication. Pope Benedict has given us his whole self in the last 8 years and now, as the Holy Father can sense, it is time for a new Pope to carry into this time of history, a new vision of Christ’s Good News.
I believe, as many Cardinals and Church leaders have stated, that the Pope’s decision was one of great humility. As Pope John Paul II gave us an example of great love in suffering, Pope Benedict is giving to this generation an example of great humility. In a time filled with an incredible priority given to individual achievements, focus and accomplishments, Pope Benedict wisely choose to echo to the world Christ’s incredible humility. By possessing keen self-awareness, the Pope was able to make visible to his Church the role of beautiful servitude on the world stage.
I know that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church and Cardinals in the following weeks in the choice of the New Pope. I will pray that like his predecessor, he will exhibit the same servility and meekness in facing the great task of sharing Christ’s light to the world.