It was 7 a.m. and I was barely awake when my husband said, “The pope is resigning.”
My emotions came in a rush. Astonishment, concern, deep sorrow — and then, finally, admiration. Because it takes a big man and a great soul to know when it’s time to say, “It’s done.”
Of course, the pundits rushed in with their own spin on the situation.
For those who don’t get the spiritual definition of the papacy, but see Pope Benedict XVI instead as another political leader, it is tempting to say he’s leaving because he feels beaten by the modern, secular world. Or he doesn’t feel confident he can continue defending traditional church teachings on controversial issues like the sanctity of life.
But if you look at what the pope actually said, you see a simple truth. He took a long, hard look at himself, he prayed for guidance and he saw the light.
As he put it, he has felt his physical and mental strength deteriorating in the past few months — and both are needed to guide the Catholic Church.
Of course, from the secular perspective, resigning is often seen as weakness — but for a man devoted to spreading the Gospel among the world’s 1 billion Catholics, strong and weak sometimes get turned upside down.
And a man who authored a moving trilogy, “Jesus of Nazareth,” read by millions worldwide, would be well aware of this.
If you look at Jesus’ life, you can see that on one level, it was a total failure. His death on the cross was reserved for the most disreputable criminals, and he got there after a trusted disciple turned against him. His other friends ran away.
And even as he hung from that brutal cross, the crowds jeered at him. They didn’t get it.
They thought Jesus was supposed to be a worldly king, which meant being rich and politically powerful. When he said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” they didn’t get that either. And when he said as he was dying, “It is finished,” they figured he was giving up.
They didn’t know about the next chapter when he tore off the shroud and stepped out of the grave.
The pope said he didn’t feel he could continue adequately governing the “barque of St. Peter” and proclaiming the Gospel, as he has done since 2005.
But he also mentioned his commitment to serving the flock through a “life dedicated to prayer.” That will be the next chapter for him.
In the eyes of the secular world, prayer counts for little — and many will disparage him for giving up a powerful position for something so ephemeral.
But those who see with the eyes of faith know Catholics aren’t really losing our beloved Pope Benedict XVI. When Jesus said, “It is finished” on the cross, he wasn’t giving up. He was giving all.
Lorraine V. Murray is the author of seven books, including “The Abbess of Andalusia,” a spiritual biography of Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.