It will never be an understatement that the announced resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has shocked the world. Already the media and internet are abuzz with discussion, commentary, and speculation about what will follow.
I have two initial reactions: first, a sense of trepidation. Moving into the unknown, especially when it comes so quickly and with apparently so little notice, can leave us with a sense of anxiety. Regardless of what one thinks of Benedict and his legacy, he is a known entity. What will happen after February 28, 2013, the day his resignation becomes official, is yet to be seen.
Second, a sense of hopeful expectation. The fact that a conservative pope would do what most conservative Catholics would consider to be unthinkable is a sign to me that God’s Spirit is still at work in the Church. Sometimes an unexpected shock — and this news is a shock — is what the Church needs in order to move forward. Doing what some would have considered an impossibility is a stark reminder of what is and is not a core belief or practice in Catholicism. The concept of creeping infallibility is just the extreme version of a more broad notion that says “this position” or “that practice” is from God, when in fact it is limited by time or place or culture. The resignation of a conservative pope reminds us that the Church can and does change — and change is a sign of life!
May God bless Benedict in whatever lies ahead for him, and may God bless all God’s Holy People as a new Successor to St. Peter is chosen to lead the Church!