It was one year ago today that Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly announced his upcoming retirement from the papacy, effective February 28, 2013. For the first time in many centuries, since 1294 when Pope Celestine V stepped down from the office, Rome would see the election of a pope while the former pontiff was still living. Certainly, this event was one for the record books and brought with it a host of questions regarding the institution of the papacy and the roles and responsibilities of the retired pontiff.
There were rumors that he was being forced out and of course, these types of stories always circulate when something like this happens. Most scholars believe that Pope Benedict stepped down due to advanced age – he was 85 years 318 days old as of Feb. 28, 2013, the effective date of his retirement – making him the 4th oldest pope to hold office. By all accounts, the transition has gone rather smoothly. Pope Francis has been received with accolades and very high public opinion. While Benedict was undoubtedly loved, he was considered a steward of the papacy after the death of Pope John Paul II.
Most people don’t realize how complex the Catholic hierarchy is. The Pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth and since, generally speaking, there is a belief that there will not be a rapture of the church, Catholic doctrine affirms that the Pope is the highest mortal authority on the church. Peter, the apostle, was the first pope and since then, there has never been a Pope Peter II. Nobody has ever wanted to be compared to the original fisherman who became the first pontiff. It will be interesting to see what happens when Pope Benedict or Pope Francis enters heaven.
There hasn’t been this type of situation for more than 7 centuries. Upon Benedict’s retirement, his fisherman’s ring was destroyed and it is my understanding that he no longer wears the red papal shoes – opting instead for brown shoes he obtained in Mexico. He continues to support the church by living his life dedicated to prayer and lives in the Vatican – occupying private quarters to ensure his privacy and shielding him from curiosity seekers.
The verse for this evening is the verse that gives Christ’s mandate to Peter after Peter’s proclamation about the deity of Jesus. He is told by Jesus, in Matthew 16:19, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” I think each pope since Peter has had a similar mandate in the eyes of the church – spokesperson for God.
My encouragement this evening is that God wants to have a personal relationship with you as much as He desires to be in relationship with the Pope. In fact, we are all important in the sight of God – as important as the Pope. My prayer is that you will dedicate yourself to a life serving God and a life of prayer, as Pope Benedict has. After all, there are so many things in this world that Christians can pray for that we will never run out of things to approach God with. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…