I'm shaken, I'll admit.
This doesn't strike me as a particularly propitious moment for the Church. (Or for democracy, the rule of law, and other essential components of what we continue to call civilization.) No doubt Benedict considered this before making his decision, but Paul VI chose not to resign for fear he would set a bad precedent--from then on, this group or that would attempt to pressure his successors into resigning themselves--and it seems to me that Paul VI had a point. And who will succeed Benedict? The more closely I observe contemporary bishops, frankly, the less impressed with them I am (there are exceptions, of course, but still) and I can't see much reason to suppose that the bishops in the College of Cardinals rises all that far above the general run.
I'm shaken, as I say.
Against all this? I have the example of Benedict himself.
Take a look once again at the two minutes of tape below. Proclaimed pope less than an hour before, an old Bavarian scholar stands on the balcony of St. Peter's addressing a hundred thousand in the piazza below--and, by television and radio, all the world. He speaks without notes, in Italian. Immediately--you can see this at about 25 seconds--he speaks of his predecessor as "the great" pope John Paul. Then--this takes place at about 40 seconds--he explains how he sees himself in relation to John Paul II: He himself, says Benedict, represents only "a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord."
A humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.
The calm Benedict displayed--the profound serenity--proved then, as during these eight years since, that he believed what he said, and that he believed that was enough.
Say your prayers. Do your work. And leave the rest to the Lord.
Much easier said than done, of course, particularly for someone with as intense an impulse as mine to comment and meddle. But the magnificent life of Josef Ratzinger--for eight years supreme pontiff, and, as of the final day of this month, once again a quiet priest and scholar--proves that it's worth a very good try.