1. Well, he’s a German. So if he says he can’t do the job, he probably can’t.
2. And yeah, it’s a good idea for someone to exercise the right to resign, so as to preserve the right to resign. Bishops have it; the Bishop of Rome also should have it. Someone who’s worked himself hard every day and written books at the same time, someone who’s been criticized for years and can put up with more — probably the best self-nomination to preserve this right.
Given that this pope allegedly tried to convince his predecessor, Bl. Pope John Paul II, to resign when his health got bad, and given that he has talked wistfully about Pope St. Celestine V, who also resigned, I think that this has been in his mind for a while. Remember, he was already having health problems and exhaustion before he was elected, was already begging JP2 to accept his resignation, and was planning to go home to Bavaria as soon as he got JP2′s successor elected. His brother went blind and deaf, for goodness’ sake, and the Pope is only a few years younger.
3. But darn it, I don’t want our Papa to go away! I love him!
There will probably never be another pope whose mind for teaching is so congenial to my way of thinking and learning. He’s done so much for the glory of God and His Church, and so patiently. He found a way to bring in the Anglican Ordinariate folks, and a good many of the SSPX groups. He did a lot for Christian unity and for the world, and his books were great.
4. I can’t help thinking that this is our fault. We didn’t pray for him enough, or something. But that’s probably not true. This is between the Pope and his Boss, who is in charge of these things. I also can’t help thinking of this as one more misfortune to hit us in this time of strife and tribulation. (And you know some people will use it as an excuse to say the next pope’s an anti-pope, etc.)
But it’s been worse. What about the pope who was supposed to have the evil eye and inadvertently cause people bad luck, the one who had a whole church collapse under his feet? That’s a misfortune, if you like. What about the Middle Ages, when people who decided on schism cut themselves off from the Church with swords and blood? This is nothing — or at least, it’s nothing that we can’t expect in a world where things are sent to try us. Stuff happens. People get old and sick, even popes.
Like my mother said this morning, popes come and go. It’s the nature of popes.
5. My mom has been pointing out that this is a very clever time to do it. First off, the Pope doesn’t resign until February 28. The conclave can start right after that. So Ash Wednesday, we’ll still have a Pope, and we can start praying right away for the Conclave folks. It’ll be held in Lent — but long enough before Easter to allow people to attend, yet close enough to Easter to encourage cardinals to vote and go home in time for Holy Week. Second off, it’s before his birthday. He’s planning to attend the Conclave and (apparently) to vote.
He’s also picked the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes to announce his resignation. So yeah, he’s calling for Mary’s intercession by his choice of date as well as by exhortation in his letter. Lourdes is not just a place of miraculous healing; it’s a place where people submit themselves to God’s will, whether they are healed or go on suffering in this life. “When you are old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you.” (John 21:18)
So yeah, he’s a German. He’s not going to just up and leave in the dead of night, like Pope St. Celestine V. He’s going to gut it out and do damage control, and make sure all the canon law i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. He’s writing the textbook. This is how he serves God. This is how he looks after us, and after the rest of history.
He’s a thinker, and he’s thought this out. He’s a pray-er, and he’s prayed about this. He’s obviously sure that God wants him to do this. It’s an example of leaning on the virtue of prudence, and on God’s providence and his own littleness. He’s not afraid of doing the hard things, even if it includes being called lazy or fearful by us.
We need to pray for him. (And if you think it’s a boneheaded move, you need to pray for him twice as much.)
6. Expect the conspiracy nuts to go crazy, and the anti-Catholics too. Have an answer ready for them. Don’t be one of them. (And no, I don’t think this is a sign of the end of the world. If it is, it’s the same sign we got under Gregory and Celestine and the rest.)
We do need to pray for the safety and integrity of the Cardinals. There will probably be a lot of political pressure on them (and physical, in the case of tyrannies). Expect intrigue and crazy suicide bombers and all the rest. We need to pray for them, and for the next pope.
7. Whatever happens, the Lord will no doubt send us a pope: maybe a saint, maybe a scourge, maybe a martyr-to-be, probably just a decent guy. The Lord loves His Bride, His fishing boat partners (koinonia), His Church. It is the Lord who rules us and fathers us; the Pope is just his prime minister and vicar.
God will never leave us orphaned. We will have a new Papa soon.
Here’s the applicable canon law text: “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.” (That’s to say that if the Pope leaves at dead of night and leaves behind only a note, it’s totally okay.)
The Deacon’s Bench has a long comment from Fr. Reese that’s got good background info.