Some things stick with you.
- I learned President Kennedy had been shot when I was leaving class in elementary school.
- I found out Pope John Paul I died while I was living in an apartment on Dauphin Street.
- The news of Pope John Paul II’s death reached me as I got off an airplane in Madrid.
I will always remember I heard about Pope Benedict’s resignation the first thing on a Monday morning.
Granted, this Pope is 85 years old, having been elected Pope at an age that most people are enjoying their retirement. Lately, when approaching the altar at St. Peter’s Basilica, he used a moving platform rather than walk the 100 yards down the center aisle. Late last year, people who spent time with the pontiff said they found him weak and too tired to engage with what they were saying.
But his predecessor, John Paul II, suffered from trembling hands and slurred speech, an inability to walk or hold his head up, and other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease for years and still held the job until he died at the age of 84.
Perhaps this Pope realized he didn’t want his pontificate to end like that. Perhaps there is some underlying personal, medical reason for which we may never know.
Maybe the last two Popes represent different faces of humility. Pope John Paul II, despite displaying symptoms that would have given a lesser person reason to withdraw from public life, purposely used his appearance to show respect for life until the moment of natural death. Pope Benedict, knowing he could have occupied the position for life, in humility chose to renounce the papal throne, to open the way for someone else. As he put it:
… in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.