The Humble Resignation of Pope Benedict

If you live long enough, you'll see just about everything.

 Today I saw something that none of my most recent ancestors saw - the resignation of a Pope.
 I think most of us remember the end of John Paul II's pontificate and the images of the once active pope bowing to the ravages of old age and illness. It was hard to watch but at the same time taught a lesson in its own right - that life is precious even to the very end, and that God can indeed use our lives regardless of our age and physical condition and that all of it is truly a gift if we choose to see it that way.

 But now Pope Benedict XVI is teaching us another lesson. The Holy Father's decision to resign has as much dignity and courage as the decision of all of his predecessors to die in office. I think the lesson is that sometimes we have to recognize our own limitations and weaknesses, and step aside for the good of others and also for our the sanctification of our own souls.

 It seems that Pope Benedict has looked to another Pope for inspiration and guidance - Pope Celestine V (1215-1296).  Pietro Angelerio was born into a very simple and poor family.  After his ordination as a Benedictine priest, he retired to the wilderness of Morrone and lived the life of a hermit inspired by the example of John the Baptist.  Pietro lived simply and worked hard. He followed four Lents a year and only allowed himself to indulge his diet on Sundays. His days were filled with prayer, reading and study. Much like the original Saint Benedict- Pietro's lifestyle attracted men seeking a life of holiness and he eventually had many monks and monastaries under him. But when governance of this new order (approved by Pope Urban IV) started taking over his daily life, Pietro turned leadership over to another, and returned to his life of seclusion, austerity and prayer. He had no desire to lead.

 Pietro's election to the Papacy was rather comedic.  Pope Nicholas IV had been dead for two years and the cardinals were no nearer to electing a new pope. Pietro sent a letter to the Cardinals chastizing them for the long delay in electing a pope. This got their attention and the story goes that Cardinal Latino Orinsi reported that God had told him to elect a pious hermit to the papacy and Pietro Angelerio was elected!  Of course they had to ascend a distant high mountain to tell him the news and the old hermit met the news with tears and denial! But he eventually descended the mountain top and became Celestine V.

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