Pope Benedict XVI: History’s Greatest Quitter

February 22, 2013

Next week, Pope Benedict XVI will resign – the first time a Pope has resigned in 600 years.pope_benedict-620x412

Really, it boggles my mind that anything can be said to be the “first time in 600 years.”  The continuity of Catholic history is so much larger than even our own American culture.  (Anyone ever watch Eddie Izzard’s standup?  “I’m from Europe, where history comes from.”)

It may be easy to watch in curiosity at this turn of events, or let it pass by unnoticed.  Some people like to take another opportunity to mock the Pope and the Catholic church.

But I think Benedict has actually done a great thing by resigning.  I think it will actually be his greatest legacy.

This is why, for one of the first times in my life, I’m cheering for a quitter.

Sometimes, Quitters Do Win

Benedict, in my Protestant opinion, was destined to be kind of a historical asterisk.  John Paul II would be a tough act to follow for anyone.  Benedict was already elderly when elected, and he really had no chance to match the legacy and charisma of his predecessor.  There would be no accomplishment he could achieve as Pope that many people would remember.

But people will remember him now.  He just earned his spot in history.  The first Pope in 600 years to do something.  He shocked the world…

…Just by quitting his job.

And in quitting his job, he not only sealed his legacy, but actually made a more positive impact than he ever could have by keeping his job.

Permission to Quit

Our church culture demands a lot of leaders, and often rewards them very little.  It is little wonder that church ministry in particular is riddled with pastors who are unhappy, or unable to do what is demanded of them.  But they feel trapped, they hang on in desperation, until they finally burn out and crash.

Benedict has done an amazingly courageous thing for future Popes, priests and pastors of all stripes (along with the rest of us).  He’s given permission to quit.  He’s been vulnerable in admitting that he cannot do what he feels the job requires of him.  The fact that he leads millions of Catholics, and is world-known makes his vulnerability all the more incredible.

Benedict has set a new precedent: that leaders don’t need to burn out.  They don’t need to be a heartbreaking public spectacle as their health fades.  If the Pope can give up the biggest church leadership post in the world, any leader can do the same.

The Character of a Quitter

Why is George Washington so revered?

Because he led the continental army, and he was the first President…

and because he quit his job.

George Washington set a positive precedent for the future leaders of the country and put the finishing touches on his legacy just by stepping down.

That’s the difference between a leader and a tyrant, isn’t it?

Ultimately, we often learn the most about a man’s character when he relinquishes power, than when he takes on power.

Wasn’t Jesus’ mission most fulfilled when he gave up the most power and control?

What do you think?  Have you ever had a hard time quitting, out of pride or a sense of obligation to others?

6 responses to Pope Benedict XVI: History’s Greatest Quitter

  1. “Ultimately, we often learn the most about a man’s character when he relinquishes power, than when he takes on power.”

    Lots of truth in that. I think he had a much more productive papacy than anyone expected–I mean, he was elected at 78!–but this resigning does seem to reflect his humility, which has long been noted by people close to him, in a positive way. There is a humility to taking on the office at an advanced age and a humility in letting it go to another man.

    p.s. you knew I’d comment on this one! 😉

  2. Hmm. As I was reading this piece, I kept thinking of the whole problem of “letting your job define you” (I mean, heck, if there’s ever a guy that’s defined by his job, it’s the pope, amiright?)

    It’s incredibly difficult, well-nigh impossible even, to *be* one thing for the rest of your life. It kind of reminded me of the elderly doctors that I’ve known over the years. There were a couple of guys in medical school who gave up their practices when they decided they were too old to practice, but went on to teach med students (they were awesome and some of the best teachers, BTW–especially for showing us “kids” the physical diagnosis techniques that they had to use before you could just get a CT for everything.)

    On the other hand, I’ve also come across some guys that just can’t seem to quit–even when they haven’t kept up with current practices and all of their colleagues are saying “why is this guy still here?” behind their backs. So, what are they afraid of giving up? Most of the time, it isn’t an income issue. Is it the prestige? The contact with patients? Old habits? (One old guy I’ve come across is such a crotchety old cuss that I can’t imagine that he takes much joy in his work anymore–so it can’t be that.) Is it that terrifying to wake up one morning and not be “Dr. So and So” anymore?

    I’ve been thinking of this as I’ve been setting up my retirement account. While I’ve worked very hard to get to where I am now, I don’t see myself being a doctor for the rest of my life. It’s my career, but it doesn’t define who I am. I already get weirded out if somebody calls me “Dr. Normal” outside of work–I don’t think it’ll bother me much if I stop being “Dr. Normal” someday.

    You hear stuff all the time about younger generations having less of their identities wrapped in their work. The pope seems to be ahead of the curve on this one!

  3. Wow, I never thought about the Pope’s resignation in this context. Thanks for cooking my noodle on a regular basis.

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