Humbled by the Pope's Resignation
February 21, 2013
Updated September 14, 2022
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“With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.”
Pope Benedict ended his resignation letter with those powerful words. As a fellow pastor in the holy catholic church, I am humbled by the Pope’s awareness, commitment, and love for the Church.
It’s not everyday that we find a leader willing to accept his or her limitations and weaknesses. Most of us struggle to even identify those limitations, and the trend (a good one, I think) is to work from our strengths rather than trying to “fix” all of our negatives.
Perhaps the Pope’s decision is the kind of wisdom that comes with age, when your weary body seems to fail more often than your mind. Or perhaps it’s that other kind of wisdom, the one that’s paired with the other kind of weariness that comes with age: the weariness of living faithfully in a struggling, fallen world, the weariness of a lifetime interceding for the world, for the church, and for souls. Given the added pressure of leading while interceding, it is no wonder that the burden has been heavy on the heart, the soul, the mind, and the body of the Roman Catholic leader—just look at where those tasks took Christ: the cross.
I don’t know much about the man, his ministry, or even the way these things work at the Vatican, but when I read the Pope’s resignation announcement, I sense a much deeper conviction for his choice than trying to be polite or hide ulterior motives. With his commitment to a life of prayer, a life that—for me, anyway—culls up thoughts of the desert fathers and mothers of long ago, Pope Benedict has discerned what he is able to do based on what he has discerned to be the church’s greatest need. More than anything, the Church needs Christ, the Church needs to be lifted by prayer into the presence of God. This discernment comes from new eyes and a new posture– the man has traveled the world, forayed into realms he has never gone before, and seen more of his fellow image bearers of Christ than most of us can imagine. All of these things have changed him, changed his sense of call, and has changed what he believes God is asking him to do at this particular time.
Through this choice, to trade power for the most humblest of lives, that of a quiet life of faithful prayer, the Pope has dedicated himself to serving the Church because it is what all churches need—less of us, and more of Christ.
And may I even be so bold as to say, less leading and more interceding.
Leaders around the world, of all denominations and local congregational cultures, do well to learn from this humility. It is far too inviting for us to cling to our callings as leaders and as visionaries as we etch out ministries that serve our own created picture of servitude. More than once, I have caught myself thinking, “If I were only a Teaching Pastor, I’d…” or “If I didn’t have to ______, I could ______…”
What I mean is, the Pope’s decision wasn’t based on what he needs to be in order to effectively carry out his task. His decision was first based upon what the community of Christ needs. What he needed to do was the response, not the instigator.
Since our first meeting, my Spiritual Director has been asking me, “What does God need you to do?” Perhaps now more than ever, I understand what the Holy Spirit is doing to me through those conversations: as a Minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church, the Spirit is asking me to serve my particular community’s need, which is less of us, less of me, and more of Christ.
May the Lord bless each of my brothers and sisters in ministry, wherever and however they serve the needs of their communities, which always comes down to less of us, and more of Christ.
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