Since Pope Benedict’s announcement of his resignation, many people have commented that this move is a sign of his deep humility…and they are exactly right. He is stepping away from a powerful position, relinquishing control of the most influential spiritual office on earth. Pope Benedict is not a power-hungry megalomaniac – despite what many of his detractors would claim. He is a humble man who loves the Church and wants what is best for her members, not his own ego.
But I would be careful how we play up this aspect of his resignation. Certainly it is a sign of humility. But we must also remember that his predecessor famously remained as pope through a long and debilitating illness, and in the end had the fourth longest reign of any pope in history. He did not give up the office of Peter; he did not resign as Benedict has…but that does not mean that John Paul was any less humble. Pope John Paul II allowed his illness and his human frailty to be on display to the world as he suffered in a very public way. That too requires a great amount of humility. But he showed us a different path than Benedict has chosen
So, both Benedict XVI and John Paul II showed us a way to live out the virtue of humility, but each in his own way. No two popes will choose to rule in exactly the same way, and no two pontificates will look exactly the same. With these two great popes in immediate succession, it is inevitable that comparisons will be made with the next pope. But the next Successor to Peter deserves his own time to find his own way to live out this calling. I pray that we give him that space and that he lives up to that challenge.
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And now, just because I thought it was funny, and since Lent began last week...