“Today we gather for a very historic moment,” he said in his homily. “In just a few hours, our Holy Father will be leaving Vatican City to go to the summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, and at 1 p.m. our time, his resignation will be in effect and the See of Peter, the cathedra of St. Peter … will be vacant.”
Bishop Ricken said the last few weeks have been quite a journey for all Catholics “because for 600 years the church has not experienced” a pope resigning from office.
“It’s a little unnerving, I’m sure for those in the Holy See, but also for all of us to see this kind of transition happening,” he said.
Bishop Ricken said that Pope Benedict had been showing signs of aging and that he displayed courage and humility making the decision to step down from the chair of Peter.
“His health was failing and becoming more frail, and … after deep prayer he heard the Lord saying to him to take this very important step in his life,” said the bishop. “So as we try to understand this, we need to also understand his great concern for the church.”
Pope Benedict’s decision to resign was made with “care and concern for the church,” added Bishop Ricken. “He didn’t’ come upon this decision lightly.”
Catholics have much for which to be thankful in Pope Benedict’s eight-year pontificate, said Bishop Ricken. “We … give thanks and praise for his teaching. As Cardinal Ratzinger, as a theologian before in Germany and now as Pope Benedict XVI, he has certainly left us a great legacy of theological reflection … and the challenge to preach and live out the Gospel in the world today.”
As Pope Emeritus Benedict begins a life of prayer and meditation, Bishop Ricken said that he offers an example to others of accepting limitations and finding new ways to serve.
“Imagine the tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of a man who is now 85 years old,” said the bishop. “He is having the courage and the humility to say I love the church and through prayer I discern that this is the best way to serve the church in the future.”
Pope Emeritus Benedict will spend time praying for the church throughout the world as well as for the new Holy Father, said Bishop Ricken.
“With a responsibility of over 1.6 billion souls throughout the world, I know I can recognize in a very faint way the tremendous challenge that this position of the vicar of Christ and successor to Peter holds,” added Bishop Ricken.
Following Mass, Bishop Ricken met briefly with the media. He said he was very pleased with the turnout for the Mass of Thanksgiving. “I think people are a little bit on edge not knowing who the next pope will be,” he told The Compass. “We need to have complete confidence that Jesus is walking with us, that the Holy Spirit is going to be with us abundantly and especially with the cardinals as they gather to choose the next successor to Pope Benedict.”
While it is a time of difficulty for the church, it is also a time of great anticipation, he noted.
“The anticipation is that (the College of Cardinals) will be able to choose someone, I know they will, who will be up to the challenges of the modern world, communicating effectively, repurposing the Gospel of Jesus in language that the modern world can understand and grant hold of.”
Bishop Ricken said he would be attending a Catholic school board meeting in Menasha at the exact time the See of Peter became vacant and that he would take time to offer additional prayers for Emeritus Pope Benedict and the church.