Courtesy of the rather startling news of his retirement, the question of the expected fourth encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI has only recently appeared in a few Catholic blogs and news sources.
As it was not expected for a while, now that he is retiring, there is doubt whether we will see this fourth proposed encyclical.
Maybe we will. Maybe it just is not one that we will see in print. Maybe this encyclical is a living one.
Perhaps, this great treatise on faith, is not one that scholars will have a text to pour over for centuries to come. Perhaps instead, this testimony to the call to faith will be a lived example.
The Pope lives in tension between an extraordinarily public life and incredibly well-protected secrecy. The mysteriousness, real and imagined of what goes on in the closed doors and back rooms of the Vatican leads to many speculations and novels of varying degrees of quality. Yet the Pope is one of the most recognized individuals in the world. His words whether spoken, written, or even tweeted become the source of debate, adoration, animosity, and completely dissected.
There is much that we do not know of the Pope's resignation. For every bit of information we learn, there is likely an encyclopedia's worth of knowledge we are unaware of in regards to this historic move.
Perhaps Pope Benedict is using this final, shocking and humble act to show us his fourth teaching - faith.
Maybe he is challenging the Church to a renewed faith. Through the inevitable examination that the Cardinals will make in conclave and the overwhelming discussion of Catholics and non-Catholics the world over we can come to have fruitful discussions of the essence of our faith and the call to live that faith in our lives and the world.
Maybe he is challenging us to live lives of humble faith. In a world that will encourages you to shout, "I can do anything you can do better!" we have a Pope saying, "Enough." He is admitting that he has reached his limit. He is saying that for the greater good, he needs to step back.
No matter what the Pope may wish for us to see in his retirement, one thing we can assure ourselves. It is an act of faith. Faith that he is doing his best to follow God. Faith that the Church will discern a new leader. Faith that the Spirit will guide the Cardinals in the conclave, the faithful in their prayers, and the world on its journey. Faith that the Son walks with him into this new phase of life just as he walks with each of us on our sometimes rocky and troubled ways. Faith that the Father holds us all, the Pope, the Church, the believers, the unbelievers, in the palm of his most loving hand.