Pope Benedict XVI’s surprising announcement of his plans to abdicate the papacy were, for me, not surprising—once I read his official message. I think it’s become clear (to informed and unbiased persons) that Benedict XVI’s announcement was made in profound humility. He acknowledges that our world is moving at lightning-fast speed:
…in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
This reminded me so much of our favorite media philosopher Marshall McLuhan’s words to Fr. Patrick Peyton in the 1970s:
The rapid change of environment exerts a sort of transforming, all-changing power on the people who are subjected to this interface, and so for many people, the new electric surround is a rip-off which destroys their image of themselves. Their identities, all the familiar boundaries, all the familiar landmarks of their world have been eroded instantly by this electric invisible surround of information. All the institutions of our world have been given this kind of overall new treatment—a new environment of instant information.
Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI was the first pope to be completely and entirely immersed in an Internet-saturated world. He has done quite an extraordinary job of reminding the world to make personal and to ‘humanize’ social communications, in order to counteract the effect that McLuhan foresaw.
I’m not big into ‘predicting’ popes, since the Holy Spirit is so unpredictable in that area, but I will venture to say: in our ‘disincarnating’ world where people are more often pixels than flesh before our eyes, the next Holy Father will continue pushing forward the importance of upholding the dignity of every human person AND the centrality of our encounter with Christ. These two themes have rung forth quite significantly from the papal throne since Paul VI, and I believe that’s strongly connected to society’s electronic media-saturation beginning about his reign (1963–78).