If we see the pope’s resignation only through the eyes of CNN or The New York Times we’ll miss so much. The pope himself chose to explain his action to the crowd in St. Peter’s square today in the context of the gospel story of the Transfiguration of Jesus and his journey to Jerusalem.
He saw his own decision as a choice to ascend the mountain of prayer, which is not a way of escaping life, but of understanding it. He wants to serve the church, not leave it, and so he embraces a life of prayer.
“We can draw a very important lesson from meditating on this passage of the Gospel. First, the primacy of prayer, without which all the work of the apostolate and of charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give proper time to prayer, both personal and communal, which gives breath to our spiritual life. In addition, to pray is not to isolate oneself from the world and its contradictions, as Peter wanted on Tabor, instead prayer leads us back to the path, to action. “The Christian life – I wrote in my Message for Lent – consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love “(n. 3).
Luke’s account of the Transfiguration sees this mystery pointing to the primacy of prayer in the life of Jesus and his disciples. Why not take the pope at his word? He intends to pray.
“Dear brothers and sisters, I feel that this Word of God is particularly directed at me, at this point in my life. The Lord is calling me to “climb the mountain”, to devote myself even more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church, indeed, if God is asking me to do this it is so that I can continue to serve the Church with the same dedication and the same love with which I have done thus far, but in a way that is better suited to my age and my strength. Let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary: may she always help us all to follow the Lord Jesus in prayer and works of charity.”