When I was on Vicarage, I woke up one Sunday morning, which happened to be my birthday, looked in the mirrored and almost passed out. There in the middle of my nice brown head of hair was this silver intruder that I had never seen before. I was completely dumbfounded to see such a thing.
Fortunately for me, that silver hair did not bring friends, and none have been seen since. And while I am hardly claiming that I was an overworked Vicar, it was a reality of what the pastoral office brings: gray hairs as a result of stress, as well as an accelerated aging process.
I write this not to draw attention to myself, but to draw attention to Pope Benedict XVI, who in a historic move, steps down today.
I remember when he was elected some seven years ago; most likely due to the condition of his predecessor, Pope Benedict seemed like a 19 year old running around from place to place, visiting and preaching and all around bring a sense of youth and vigor to the office, even as he was hardly what anyone would call a young man.
Today, as he leaves the office of Pope, that sense of youth and vigor is long gone as he looks every bit of the 85 years his birth certificate indicates. Is it age catching up to him? Perhaps; but I would argue that it is the stress of the office that is catching up to him.
The office of pastor, whether it is the man who sits in a parish study in Natoma, or in a St. Louis office building, or in the Vatican apartments, is a grueling one as the weight of the stole is a heavy thing to wear upon one’s shoulders; it is an office where those men who hold it are asked of much, and who give much in return.
Others will write about the Lutheran confession regarding the Pope, and I whole-heartedly agree with that confession. But for the purposes of this post, I completely understand why he is stepping down, not because he read the Unaltered Augsburg Confession and its Apology, but because he woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and saw a man who could not meet the demands of his office anymore.
But the reality is that whether you are overseeing 1.2 billion people worldwide, or just a few hundred over 30 or so square miles, the issues are many, the stresses are great, and that is before you consider that temptations of Satan.
In a few weeks, maybe a month or so, another man will assume the office, and for a time, he too will defy his birth certificate and appear young and full of vigor; but so did Pope Benedict at one time; so did all men who hold the office of pastor.
That’s not something you are going to see in the recruitment videos from the Seminary. Nor is it going to be among the stories that are shared at Pastor’s conferences or by District Presidents. You kind of find out for yourself as you go along. The Pope knows it today.