Pope Benedict XVI indeed shocked the world this week when he announced he would resign the papacy at the end of February. "Can he even do that?" is a question many asked.
Indeed yes. Though it hasn't been done in 600 years, there have been popes who have left the office for various reasons - for their health, from political pressure, or to heal rifts in the church.
Pope Benedict's reason is a sound one - his health is making it impossible for him to do the job as he thinks it needs to be done. We don't believe he is resigning to avoid the pressures and controversies that have surrounded his papacy. He wants to give the job to someone who has the energy to do it well.
Pope Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, stayed in the office even as his strength and health progressively and visibly failed. He became very much a spiritual teacher then, providing a profound example on the sanctity of life, the power of suffering when endured with patience, and that dying with dignity doesn't mean assisted suicide.
Pope Benedict, too, is setting an example for the Church, that sometimes it is better to step aside, to retire, to give over the shepherd's staff to someone who is better able to lead.
We have no doubt the College of Cardinals will select a suitable replacement to take up the staff.