Many people all over the world seem amazingly shocked (and some truly saddened) to hear that Pope Benedict XVI will resign from the papacy on February 28, 2013. As the leader of the world’s one billion Catholics, Benedict clearly felt that he could no longer do the job effectively because of his advanced age (85) and health problems (it was later revealed that he has a pacemaker). It is fitting that even in the modern (increasingly secular) world that a pope’s resignation can cause such a stir among Catholics and non-Catholics alike. This tells us something about the influence of his office, even if many people do not recognize him as having any authority in their lives.
Why is this moment so important to Catholics (and seemingly to everyone else in the world too)? The answer is that the Catholic Church now finds itself at a Robert Frost moment, with two roads diverging in the woods. Does its leadership (the Sacred College of Cardinals) have the wisdom and fortitude to go down a different path, or will political and regional considerations shove the Cardinals once again down the all too trodden thoroughfare as many expect?
Right now the Church is at a monumental time and place in history. There is a convergence of history, technology, and tradition occurring as it never has before. Most modern day Catholics are people of the real world and, although we still look to our religious leaders for guidance, there is the starkly salient truth that the world has changed and our Church has not. There must be an understanding that the new pope needs to deal with reality and face difficult questions with a keen, modern sensibility, not one that is drenched in the malaise of past centuries.
That is why I note that old white popes can’t jump. I state it somewhat with tongue in cheek, but please look at Benedict XVI, and there will be no debate. The poor man can hardly walk. There is great humility in his decision to resign, and one has to give him enormous credit. He could have just sat there as a figurehead, withering away but clinging onto leadership. Benedict’s decision is actually a great leap of faith, and in that there is a metaphorical “jump” for which we all must be thankful.