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Pope Benedict XVI Resigns: What Does It Mean?

I could not quite believe my eyes this morning when a New York Times alert flashed across my phone: “Pope Benedict Resigns.” This is probably the biggest single news item in the worldwide Christian Church in my lifetime. The spiritual leader of 1.2 billion of my brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic community is doing something that has no real precedent. While it is true that there was a pope who resigned back in 1415, that resignation came amidst one of the greatest scandals in Church history, with three different popes vying for control!

This resignation is clearly different. Though Benedict has certainly been a controversial pope, presiding over an increasingly firm turn to the theological right, he has not been personally embroiled in scandal to the same degree. Certainly nothing that would indicate that he should resign from an office that until now has essentially been considered unresignable.
And yet, here we are. Benedict has announced his retirement from the papacy on the basis of his advanced age and his own personal judgment that he is no longer able to fulfill the role of spiritual fatherto the Roman Catholic community. Declaring his retirement date as 28 February, 2013, Benedict is giving a little more than two weeks notice. Assemble the cardinals: It is time to select a new pope!

I am sure that there will be a great variety of reactions to Benedict’s resignation. Some – especially among the Roman Catholic community’s progressive wing – will cheer. Some will be appalled, and many others will be confused. I understand all of these reactions, but I have a different one. I feel awed and grateful.

In this unexpected act, I feel like I am catching a glimpse – perhaps for the first time – into the real character of this pope. This is a spiritual leader who has the humility to set aside his official authority and admit that he no longer has the strength or the divine calling to serve as the apostolic guardian of more than a billion souls. That takes some guts!

I cannot see into Benedict’s heart, and I am in no position to judge him. Nevertheless, I must say that I am deeply impressed by this act. It inspires me to be more willing to reevaluate my own spiritual gifts and sense of divine calling. Benedict’s resignation reminds me that I must be open to laying aside even the most importantwork that I do in order to be faithful to the One who calls me. By laying down the splendor, power and authority of the papacy, Benedict challenges me to follow his example, releasing my own privileges and reputation in order to become a more faithful, loving servant to the whole body of Christ.

In this one decision, Benedict reveals himself to be truly apostolic. As he lays down all his worldly crowns and honors at the feet of Jesus, he can say with integrity, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.“-

For another Quaker’s reaction to Benedict’s announcement, check out Dan Randazzo’s blog, A Closeted Radical.