I feel like I'm still in a haze from yesterday. What an important day for the Church. I got the sense that it would be a day in which I remember some of the details of what I was doing for the rest of my life, as often happens on days in which unexpected but life altering things happen. It still hasn't fully sunk in, but it's been on my mind since the moment I found out, and so these are my thoughts:
I respect his decision. Only he and his doctors know the specifics of what is currently going on with his health. And we know that Benedict is a prayerful man. If he felt that this was the right decision, I believe him.
But I'm sad. I get uncomfortable as I read what has now become an oft repeated statement that "...this is good, as it paves the way for future popes to resign when they get older. And with modern medicine aiding us in living as long as we do, resignation will become increasingly necessary."
I don't completely agree with that statement. I certainly don't think that John Paul II's model of suffering at the very end of his life as pope was a mistake. I don't like the implication that from now on, any pope should consider resigning as he ages (especially past age 80), as maybe we can't learn anything from him anymore. It just smacks of the condescending attitude our modern society typically has towards the elderly. Not productive. Not valuable. Useless. I completely disagree.
On the other hand, I can respect that each individual pope should do as they see fit for themselves. Perhaps Benedict does not feel called to share his physical struggles publicly in the same way that John Paul II did. There is nothing wrong with that.
I can very much picture Benedict happily living out the rest of his days in study and prayer. If that is what is best for him, and what he feels is best for the Church, then I'm fine with it. I'm quite excited about the prospect of a Lenten conclave, and see this as a powerful and poignant lent. I look forward to the excitement of a new pope for the Holy Week and Easter celebrations to come.
What I am already sick of though are the negative comments I'm seeing in some places. How the Church needs to "get with the times" and "become more progressive." And it always relates back to the issues the Church takes the most criticism for. Birth control. Abortion. The definition of marriage. Female clergy. Priestly celibacy.
I certainly think that the Church is a living and evolving institution, and it should address modern issues as with all things, with love. But I think that people who are expecting the Church to change on her core teachings are going to be sorely disappointed. It's not going to happen.
I am very curious and excited to see who will be elected, but I have a feeling that the wait is going to feel very long. And all of the speculation is drawn out even more than usual since we have this two and a half week span before the resignation becomes effective.
I'm looking forward to it being a time of intense prayer. And on that note I have devised my Lenten scheme for 2013. I'm not going to observe any dietary restrictions other than the expected fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence from meat on all other Fridays of Lent. I'm going to read some Catholic books. I have a copy of George Weigel's God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church that I'm going to pull out. I'm certain I will still read some fiction. But overall I'm going to try to pray more, and to add in morning and evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours for all of Lent. I started doing that last Lent and loved it, but once I tried moving to the Magnificat prayers instead I fell off the wagon. This year, I'm sticking with my study old 4-volume Liturgy of the Hours books. And that's it.
Although that doesn't seem like a lot, I intend to make it count. I'm going to be praying a lot, as we all should, for our new pope, whoever he may be.