Shocking news erupted from the Vatican early this morning—Pope Benedict XVI announced that he will abdicate the papacy on February 28, 2013. The Holy Father has cited advanced age and declining health as his rationale.
Although rare and controversial, resignation is perfectly legal according to Canon Law, the body of rules that governs Church life. The first Pope to resign was Celestine V, who left office on December 13, 1294. He cited similar reasons for leaving, including “the desire for humility, for a purer life, for a stainless conscience, the deficiencies of his own physical strength, his ignorance, the perverseness of the people, his longing for the tranquility of his former life.”
Reactions to Celestine V’s departure were immediate, fierce, and ugly. Dante Alighieri consigned the Pontiff to Hell in his famous poem, The Divine Comedy, the first third of which is commonly referred to as Dante’s Inferno. However, time vindicated the Pope’s peculiar decision, and today we know him as Pope St. Celestine V. Catholics should keep this in mind before racing to condemn Pope Benedict XVI’s actions. God is still in control, and his servant, our Holy Father Benedict, has not undertaken the decision to abdicate the throne of St. Peter lightly. I’m sure the Pope has very good, compelling reasons. The faithful should offer their prayers, support, and encouragement. Until more details emerge, speculation should cease. We will know more in due time. For now, let us fast and turn our hearts to the Lord.
For many, the next few months will be a trying time. Some may feel like our Holy Father is walking out on us and abandoning his family. There is no use in denying the pain, anger, and sorrow that we all feel. We must therefore offer comfort and support to all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
This is the year of faith—then, let us walk in faith with our one, true shepherd, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who will never forsake us and whose strength will never fail. Here at Austin Catholic New Media, our prayers are with all of the Church’s faithful on this dark and confusing day.
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