“In order to govern the [ship] of St. 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.” With these words, Pope Benedict XVI resigned from the papacy yesterday at the age of 85. (To learn more about his remarkable life, I invite you to read, “Benedict XVI: From P.O.W. to Pope.”)
Effective February 28, Pope Benedict will become the first pope since Gregory XII in 1415 to resign from office. After he serves his last day as pope, he will revert to his former title, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and will continue to serve the Catholic church “through a life dedicated to prayer.”
Many in our culture will question the significance of such a life. We measure success by performance, popularity, and possessions; the pope soon will have little of each. Will his relevance end when his papacy ends?
Our culture seldom measures significance correctly. Albert Einstein’s teachers labeled him lazy and sloppy before he discovered the theory of relativity. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians in history, was nicknamed “Dumb Ox” by his peers at the University of Paris. Moses called the Israelites to build the tabernacle from gifts brought by “everyone who is willing” (Exodus 35:5). Does God seek ability or availability? Will he use anyone who will be used?
Joseph did not know when he was in Potiphar’s prison that he would soon be in Pharaoh’s palace. Moses, who was “slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10), began his ministry at the age of 80. Daniel faced his lions; Peter was imprisoned on death row (Acts 12:1-5); Paul was whipped five times, beaten three times, stoned once, and shipwrecked (2 Corinthians 11:24-25). John had no idea when he was exiled on Patmos that he would meet Jesus there and receive the Revelation.
In my first pastorate, I was befriended by Renee Lowery. Mrs. Lowery had been paralyzed by a stroke years earlier; once a day her family would turn her from one side to the other. But how she could pray! I visited her nearly every week, asking for her wisdom and intercession. When our first child was born, I brought him to Mrs. Lowery so she could pray over him. Only heaven knows the eternal significance of her suffering faith.
The next time culture tells you that you’re too old or young or flawed or unskilled or incapable, remember this statement from Benedict XVI’s sermon last Sunday: God “does not look so much to the quality of those chosen, but to their faith.” What faith does he see in you?