In hindsight, we’re seeing clues, now, and reading words he uttered indicating that Pope Benedict XVI has clearly been thinking of renouncing the papal throne for some time.

Forgive me if this sounds absurd on the face of it, but I am wondering if, despite these pieces of evidence, Benedict’s recent entry into Twitter has had anything to do with the seeming abruptness of his announcement.

Before you scoff, consider: the pope’s interest in, and support of, the church’s engagement with new media proves he is not exactly out of touch with the world, but when the Benedict finally logged on to Twitter he got to see firsthand the sort of raw, unhinged anti-Catholic hatred so active within social media threads.

We who work in new media experience this hatred so regularly it barely registers with us, but for Benedict, or those around him, it must have been a shocking revelation to encounter the vilest expressions of hatred, the intentional voicings of malice and evil hopes, flung squarely at the Holy Father, in real time.

A hoped-for encounter with the faithful also brought an encounter with something wicked. It exposed Benedict to, perhaps, a reality he had formerly been spared.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying the pope had his feelings hurt. I’m saying he looked into a depth of pain and hate and realized he needed to do something more.

A great deal of that tweeted animosity has been inspired (and earned) by the deplorable scandals of past decades (for which we are due a long season of penance) but no doubt much of it is rooted in nothing more than the church’s obedience to Christ’s commission that she be not only a consolation to the poor, the sick and the marginalized, but also a sign of contradiction to the world and its disorienting trends.

I wonder if our sensitive pope looked into the abyss of pain, screaming hatred and ignorance so easily accessed by just a few clicks of a keyboard, and felt called to humility and prayer — a full renunciation of everything in the world, including earthly power and communion with the faithful — in reparation, penance.

Because we know Benedict is an introvert, and we see his tiredness, it is easy to believe that the man simply wishes, as some have suggested, to spend his last days unburdened, “reading and writing’ in an fragrant castle garden.

I don’t think so; During his entire priesthood, the man has not shaken off duties and burdens, but consented to carry more and more. This is who he is.

Increasingly, I believe Benedict’s resignation, rather than releasing himself from a heavy weight, is necessary so he may take on something much more cumbersome.

Last November, in a beautiful, intimate talk to a small gathering of elderly people, Benedict urged, “. . .never feel down at heart: you are a wealth for society, even in suffering and sickness.”

And yet he has seemed down, lately. For all of his recent weight-loss, visible in his face, the pope has seemed in all ways heavier, not lighter.

In announcing his resignation, Benedict said,

…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 steer the ship 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…

Nowhere have we heard, either through official lines or “back-channels” that the Holy Father is not fully in his wits. To the contrary, his remarks are as lucid as ever.

As he has done from his first moments as pontiff, Benedict yesterday asked pardon for his “defects” and then said, “With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.” It’s not about him. It’s about the church he serves, as always.

He’s retiring to a monastery within the Vatican. One does not “retire” into monasticism; a monastery is not an idyllic place of retreat, but a full-thrust into spiritual depths. It is where one goes to pray, do penance and — if one is particularly holy and willing — to engage in supernatural battle with things seen and unseen.

This is grave stuff, indeed; a heavy task. My suspicion is that Benedict is not taking his leave of the papacy in order to play his piano and read his books. In the midst of the temporal Lent of 2013, he’s going to be immersing himself in the Long Lent that began for us in 2002, and is with us still.

I suspect he will be doing penance for the church, and for the world — for those of us who cannot or will not do it, ourselves.

He is going into deep prayer, and that is no easy thing. It is, in fact, his last and perhaps greatest act of self-abnegation in a life that has been full of them. He never wanted the papacy, but was obedient to where he was being led. Given that his whole life has been lived in obedience to the Holy Spirit’s lead, we should believe he is being led, yet again, and is meekly — but with paradoxical boldness — going where he would rather not go.

As did Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, Benedict meant it when he offered himself to God in the full rush of love, and said “use me.” As with those two saints, he is being used up to his last ember. It is only my conjecture, of course, but in my gut, I think it is so.

We won’t get to witness the last flames and embers of the 80+-year holocaust that has been Joseph Ratzinger because, as penitents have taken themselves into the desert since the earliest church, to do their separate battle and offer their weary praise, this is between Benedict — carrying the weight of all of our church-wide sins on his back — and the God who has called him.

Pray for Pope Benedict XVI as he becomes again Ratzinger, and — for the sake of the rest of us — willingly takes on a burden he will not shrug off. If he is, in fact, headed into battle for our sake, it is the most heroic thing we will never know about, in a whole life of quiet heroism.

Again in that talk to seniors, Benedict said:

Do not forget that one of the valuable resources you possess is the essential one of prayer: become interceders with God, praying with faith and with constancy. Pray for the Church, and pray for me, for the needs of the world, for the poor, so that there may be no more violence in the world. [Such prayers] can protect the world, helping it, perhaps more effectively than collective anxiety.

So, we must pray for Benedict, and with him. Let us be willing to join our Lenten prayers and fasts to those of this vicar who never swaggers, but trudges simply forward. In this way we can strengthen him, and the church, and the world, in times of great tumult and uncertainty.

Benedict Announces Retirement (It’s what he WOULD do!) UPDATES! February 11, 2013 By Elizabeth Scalia

(photo source)

In the Pope’s most recent tweet, our dear Papa had this to say to us: We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.

And today (Feb. 11, 2013), on the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will retire in just a few weeks.

He’s been looking very tired for a while — he is 86 years old. Funnily enough, I was pondering my Pope App this past weekend and marveling the schedule of a man closer to age 90 than age 80.

Maybe he looked at it too and thought. “I just can’t.”

Except I am sure it wasn’t that simple. Benedict being who he is, I’m sure he prayed deeply over this decision.

And because he is known to be a considerate man, I am equally certain that if he felt he could manage the rigorous papal schedule of Lent and Holy Week, he would not thoughtlessly throw a new man into those heavy duties.

Vatican watchers have speculated for years that if any pope might resign due to age or health, Benedict XVI — having watched Blessed John Paul’s deterioration — could well be that man. Seems he is.

Still, all of that said, I am a saddened by Benedict’s move. I was driving a kid to a train station this morning, via ice-sheeted streets while she read the news off her phone and my first thought was, “Noooo!” My second was, “What now? How do we deal with a pope, and a Pope Emeritus, so to speak?”

John Paul II’s deterioration was hard to watch, but one of the lessons it taught us was that age and illness does not diminish the worth of a person; that was an important, nay, urgent message that had to be delivered to this increasingly utilitarian age.

Perhaps Benedict’s retirement is meant to remind this exceedingly busy world — the non-stop, twenty-four-hour-live and very self-important world — that we are none of us indispensable; that there comes a time to step back, throw oneself into the arms of the Lord and trust that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

Yes, I am sad. I have loved Benedict XVI; he has been my favorite pope — I loved John Paul, of course, but as I have said before, he was a grand, dramatic pipe organ of a man; he belonged to the whole world and his writings are often so dense I cannot plumb them. Benedict has always been the more accessible tinkling piano, simply inviting one to come closer. His copious writings have been almost avuncular in their gently-voiced but brilliant instruction, and somehow it always felt like he belonged “to me”. I will miss him terribly.

I agree with Ed Morrissey, Fr. James Martin, and others who call this an act of extreme humility, certainly we’ll be checking with Rocco Palmo, and Deacon Greg, Kevin Knight at New Advent and so many great Catholic sites over the course of the day and in the coming weeks.

Listening to some of the inanities coming out of the mouths of cable news anchors, and noting the way they are quickly, predictably, focusing on the “negative narratives” — one voice on cable anchor is making it sound like the church has just endured 32 years of misery and she imagines “great joy” among “progressive” Catholics and “confusion” among “conservative” ones — how grateful I am that, thanks to Benedict’s awareness, there is a hardy and energetic internet presence, well-established and looked upon with encouragement by Rome (and increasingly entered into and brilliantly utilized by smart bishops, priests, religious and layfolk). Thanks to that, we’ll explore this very new ground, together, with our diverse points of view laid out and hashed out, all while trusting that the Holy Spirit is guiding what occurs, as has been true since Pentecost. Benedict has done a great deal to help unite Christians, even while his own church has been roiled; and he has throughout much of his pontificate been an obedient Peter, led where he would perhaps rather not go.

The story goes that when he was a POW during World War II, the young Joseph Ratzinger shot craps with another prisoner, Gunter Grass, while they argued philosophy. “There are many truths,” Grass said. “No,” answer the 15 year-old Ratzinger, “there is only one.” He went from war to seminary and has spent his entire life in service to Christ and the church. Perhaps this shy, transparently holy introvert — whom the mainstream media have never “gotten” — has earned some time for quiet prayer, and reading, before he takes his leave.

:::UPDATE::: One more thought before I put this post to rest — I’m kind of appalled at how some members of the press are reacting to this. The announcement wasn’t two hours old when the cable news gasbags started in with their “wish list” and expressing hopes that the next pope “gets it right” on the “important issues.” A few sound like they’re all but crossing a line through this pontificate with zero understanding or appreciation of what it has actually been. And some of the comments in the Facebook threads are just so…awful. People are so busy thinking about their personal “agenda” for the church — be it “progressive” or “Conservative” — that they’re not even taking a breath to consider that the man and his pontificate will be more than a footnote to John Paul’s; they have no idea what a force for Christian unity he has been in the midst of so much division.

But on consideration, this almost seems typical of Benedict, particularly if his health is failing. He would have hated a long drawn out affair with pilgrims waiting within the basilica courtyard for his death. If John Paul went out like the sustained note of a grand organ, fading into silence, Benedict simply senses his tiredness and the hour, closes up his piano, and bids us adieu. Ratzinger, in the end, is still Ratzinger: he does his work, kisses it all up to the Holy Spirit and moves on, not particularly concerned about the peripheral yakking of man or media.

Despite the “preferred” secular narratives, he has always been more “glory of the olive” than “rottweiler.”


Elizabeth Scalia is the Catholic Portal's Managing Editor at Patheos, an online magazine that deals with religious topics. She also maintains a blog there, The Anchoress, formerly hosted at First Things magazine—when it maintained a more extensive stable of in-house bloggers. Scalia is now a columnist at First Things. She is not related to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. The blog name and Internet handle "The Anchoress" is derived from the term Anchorite, and appears to underscore the contemplative side of her nature. Scalia sometimes focuses on pro-life issues, but also endorsed Rudy Giuliani as a U.S. presidential candidate in 2008, despite his pro-choice positions; she was criticized for this by other pro-lifers. The Anchoress blog focuses on politics, current events, New York Yankees baseball, pop culture, and Catholic issues. Scalia uses her own name for published articles (e.g., on Pajamas Media) and for public appearances, but is often known as The Anchoress among bloggers and in the online world. The Anchoress was described by CBS News' Public Eye as "one of the blogosphere's most mysterious and interesting voices," when it invited her to contribute to its.....Read about Elizabeth Scalia at

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