The historic resignation of Pope Benedict XVI continues to hold the world’s attention. The pope used yesterday’s Angelus address to say good-bye to throngs of well-wishers, while the Vatican announced today that the conclave to choose Benedict’s successor can begin as soon as March 15.

Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, says the work left behind for Benedict’s successor (and indeed for the whole Church) is “sobering”:

A bishop friend of mine said recently that what we need now more than anything as a church, both locally and globally, is a “re-formation” – the kind of fundamental, root-and-branch conversion that goes vastly deeper than the pet issues of American media and political culture to a transformation of hearts, and thereby behavior.

In that regard, sometimes the best lessons for the future can be learned from the experience of the past.

Five centuries ago, just a few years before Luther’s “95 theses,” the Catholic reformer the Rev. John Colet delivered a blisteringly frank homily to a cathedral full of English bishops and senior clergy. To an unamused audience, he argued that “never was there more necessity and never did the state of the church more need” a profound effort at purification – not away from Catholic belief, but back toward living it more zealously, more honestly, more faithfully, as though this world and the next depended on it, because they do.

Read “The Church After Pope Benedict” in the Philadelphia Inquirer.