The sound of an arriving text message awoke me. It was from a close friend and it told me that the Holy Father had resigned. I read it and thought, “This cannot be true.” I immediately went to the Vatican website and saw the news. I will never forget that day.
None of us expected to see the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. We are surprised, curious about the reasons, and awaiting a new shepherd. And in the surprise and the curiosity and the anticipation of a new pope, we may have missed something very important. Pope Benedict’s resignation is an example of radical fidelity to the will of God.
If you’ve met the Holy Father, you know firsthand that he is a man of deep prayer—that he is a true disciple of Jesus Christ. If you’re like me, you have been grateful for the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, and very proud of what he’s done over the past eight years. The Church has been blessed by his ministry.
The more the truth of his resignation has set in, the more my heart has become sad. I will truly miss him—his wisdom, gentle spirit, joy and his teachings and homilies.
I have no doubt that Pope Benedict’s resignation was the fruit of his personal prayer and the genuine discernment of God’s will. The Holy Father, an 85-year-old man, and the Supreme Pontiff of the Church, spends time in personal prayer every day asking the Father what he should be doing—and then he listens. He speaks heart to heart with God.
It is easy for all of us, especially adults, to get into routines and patterns, to expect that we have a clear sense of what God wants from us. But if the Holy Father, at 85, can discover that God is calling him to something completely new—we need to be open to that as well.
It took great humility, honesty, courage and holiness on Benedict’s part to do what he did. Only a man of deep faith, with a profound trust in the Father’s love for him in a personal way, could make his decision. His love for Christ and the Church were his motives for his resignation. He desires what is best for the Church.
The next chapter of Benedict’s life will be a challenge. To dedicate your life entirely to prayer is not easy. To live in a cloistered monastery is not easy. Pope Benedict is not retiring to sunny beaches, the mountains or a Sicilian vineyard. He is beginning a new and difficult task because God has called him.
That is a lesson for all of us.
I pray that each of us will be as open to the Father’s will in our lives as Pope Benedict has been. And I ask that each of you will join me in prayer for the cardinals of the Church who will travel to Rome, and with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, select the next Roman pontiff. Christ promised to be with the Church to the end. He promised that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.” With hearts of trust and confidence, similar to Benedict’s, we put all of what is to come in the hands of the true head of the Church, Jesus Christ.
Join me in thanking God for Pope Benedict’s ministry. Join me in praying for the next shepherd of our Church. And join me in spending each day asking the Lord how he is calling us to serve him, to know him and to love him.