The pope has resigned, and it is his canon law right to do so. He resigns for health reasons, and anyone watching him over the last year can tell you it was obvious. The man can barely walk anymore. His doctors have told him he can no longer travel, and when he got that word, he understandably decided to resign.
Pope Benedict XVI was the greatest pope in a generation, though this generation cannot recognise that, because this generation is narcissist. At least, it is in the Western world anyway (Europe, the Americas and Australia). The people of the Western world want a "rock star" pope who makes them "feel good" so they can focus on themselves even more. This pope didn't give us that. Instead he gave us all what we needed. What made Pope Benedict XVI great was his rich theology and love of tradition. Through his apostolic actions, he made subtle course corrections in the Church, that have little recognition in the immediate culture, but will be very clearly seen as people look back in history 20 years from now. Pope Benedict XVI has effectively changed the entire direction of the Church, moving us away from the hippy post-Vatican II culture of the 1970s, that gave us clown-masses and the sex-abuse scandal, toward a vision of Vatican II that is based on a "hermeneutic of continuity" with the pre-conciliar Church. The long-term effect of Benedict's papacy is only seen immediately by a few, but will be unmistakable to the world a generation from now.
The next conclave will likely be held in March, and while the cardinals consider who will succeed this great man, the narcissistic Western world will hold its breath, hoping the cardinals will elect a man who will tell them birth control is okay, and gay-marriage isn't so bad after all. The Western world will once again be disappointed with the Catholic Church, as it always is. This isn't "dial a pope, dial a doctrine." If the Catholic Church changed its teachings with every new leader, it wouldn't have lasted 2,000 years. Let the narcissist people of the West hold their breath until they are blue in the face.
Then of course there is "that prophecy" that so many will talk about over the next few weeks. It is the prophecy of St. Malachy, who in the 12th century listed 112 short phrases in Latin that are supposed to correspond with each pope elected since then. The list has been uncannily accurate over the last century. According to the prophecy, this next pope will be the last on the list. That is not to say the last pope ever, just the last pope on the list. The list didn't start with the first pope ever, so there is no reason to believe it ends with the last pope ever. If the prophecy is accurate, and I still insist "if," then what it does tell us is the following. The next pope will lead the Church through great persecutions, and will be followed by a great "judge." His papacy will also have some association with the name "Peter" and "Rome," which really doesn't tell us much, since every pope in history has had some association with Peter and Rome. The persecutions are easy to understand, as the Church has suffered great persecution in the Muslim and Communist world. It is even beginning to suffer soft persecution in the Western world. As for this "judge" that is supposed to follow the next pope -- who knows? Of course, some are inclined to believe it is Jesus at the Second Coming, but I think that is a stretch to say the least. More than likely, "if" the prophecy is accurate, then this "judge" will likely be some European ruler who will put an end to both radical Secularism and the growing threat of radical Islam. Again, all of this is pure speculation, as there is no way we can know if the prophecy is really truly accurate. We won't know until the next pope has completed his reign. I only mention the prophecy of St. Malachy here because I know that many Evangelicals will inquire about it. It seems that in my area of the United States anyway, the prophecy of this mediaeval Catholic bishop is of more interest to Evangelical Protestants than to Roman Catholics. Go figure!
Overall, I think this event serves as the shock we all needed to prepare for Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. In this, Pope Benedict XVI again gave us what we needed, not what we wanted. Since learning the news I have been disappointed and heartbroken, but not angry or unsettled. If anything I am grateful. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) was EXACTLY what the Catholic Church needed at this time in history. I want to now publicly thank the Holy Father for his incredible and faithful service to the Keys of Saint Peter. May God bless him!