The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the first believers in Jesus chose successors to Peter who led the Church, guiding it in the legacy of Jesus Christ its Savior and Lord. Popes (or successors to Peter) lived out their faith and their leadership abiding by the view that they held the power to bind things on earth and in heaven and to loose things in heaven and on earth. Sometimes, Popes exercised enormous power and influence and were called great, for example, Leo and Gregory.
There were also times when other Catholics wielded great influence on the life of the Church, such as the Desert Fathers, St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Theresa(s), St. Anthony, St. Monica, St. Ignatius, St. Catherine of Sienna, St. Benedict, and St. Joan of Arc. They were famous during their lives and garnered global attention in death.
Pope John XXIII and Paul II are probably the most popular and memorable Popes for Catholics living today. The Polish Pope gave way to the German Pope and they may have ushered in the end of the Italian papacy, but you never know. Because something does not happen for a long time does not mean it won’t happen.
Every so often, we are reminded of the greatness of the Roman Catholic Church. The fact of Rowan Williams’ early retirement as Archbishop of Canterbury barely registered in the news, but today’s news about the Pope was everywhere. When something has not happened in about six hundred years, it is bound to make history.
Already securing a place in history by following John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI will now hold a special place in papal history by being the first to abdicate in 600 years. In some ways, the abdication makes the Church look flexible, adaptable, aware of the times, and cognizant of human limitations.
The world will soon have a new pope, maybe by Easter. The Roman Catholic Church will still have to deal with a modern world, an increasingly less religious world, a world with an increasingly conservative following, and disagreement about public morality. The Roman Catholic Church still needs to deal with questions about women’s ordination, the teaching on homosexuality, the pedophilia scandals, and what it means to be a church in the modern world.
The Pope is 85 years old. Not sure if I could run my own life at 85; can’t imagine trying to lead a global institution. Mamma Mia.
In stepping down, the Pope will manage to draw more attention to the papacy. I think the Pope, in his abdication, will do more good for the church. In our “celebrity focused” world, a leader with detractors, admirers, and millions of followers will draw a lot of attention from believers, unbelievers, skeptics alike; this holy, enigmatic, controversial, accomplished MAN at prayer is hard to ignore.
By breaking a 600 year “tradition” the Pope may be signaling that anything can happen at any time. Or in God’s time.