Scott Hahn's Facebook post about the Pope's resignation is worth pondering in depth. I hope he won't mind that I'm pasting it in full here.
Back on April 29, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI did something rather striking, but which went largely unnoticed.
He stopped off in Aquila, Italy, and visited the tomb of an obscure medieval Pope named St. Celestine V (1215-1296). After a brief prayer, he left his pallium, the symbol of his own episcopal authority as Bishop of Rome, on top of Celestine's tomb!
Fifteen months later, on July 4, 2010, Benedict went out of his way again, this time to visit and pray in the cathedral of Sulmona, near Rome, before the relics of this same saint, Celestine V.
Few people, however, noticed at the time.
Only now, we may be gaining a better understanding of what it meant. These actions were probably more than pious acts. More likely, they were profound and symbolic gestures of a very personal nature, which conveyed a message that a Pope can hardly deliver any other way.
In the year 1294, this man (Fr. Pietro Angelerio), known by all as a devout and holy priest, was elected Pope, somewhat against his will, shortly before his 80th birthday (Ratzinger was 78 when he was elected Pope in 2005). Just five months later, after issuing a formal decree allowing popes to resign (or abdicate, like other rulers), Pope Celestine V exercised that right. And now Pope Benedict XVI has chosen to follow in the footsteps of this venerable model.
One can't help comparing it to John Paul II's decision not to resign in the face of his own disabilities. "Jesus didn't come down from the cross."
And yet, it doesn't seem to me to suffer in the comparison at all. Rather, I am moved to fresh admiration at the mystery of the freedom and responsibility we have as persons, and the mystery of irrepeatability and indivduality lived in high office.
Nothing could be plainer than that each Pope made his decision in faith, after much prayer, and under a profound sense of duty. At the same time, the decision of each seems to spring from the individual character of the human personality, while it illumines both the limits and the range of the office he held.