Did you feel that earth tremor Monday? It wasn't a weak aftershock of a dud Mayan prophecy, nor was it the result of North Korea's latest bid to reinforce its reputation as the loopiest regime on the planet.
Monday's earth shaker was rooted on the other side of the globe in Italy, where a wisp of common sense was finally detected in the Vatican.
His holiness Pope Benedict XVI stunned the Catholic world when he announced that he would be stepping down, effective at the end of this month.
And with those words, Benedict ended a 598-year streak in which every one of his predecessors had died in office. When it comes to popes in the Vatican, they take the word "predecessor" literally.
Now, I'm not Catholic, but kudos to Pope Benedict for having the courage to defy centuries of tradition and make a move that is actually in the best interests of the institution he has dedicated his life to serving. He cited a decline in his physical and mental health in recent years as the reasons behind his decision and that's fair enough. After all, the man is 85 years old.
The "pope for life" mandate was workable for centuries when men ascended to the position in middle age and, owing to much shorter lifespans way back when, were carried out of the Sistine Chapel feet first before they had the chance to blow out the candles on their 50th birthday cakes.
Modern medicine has worked wonders, but not for those humans who aspire to occupations that include the title "job for life." These guys are living longer and longer and it may not be a good thing.
Case in point is the man who preceded Benedict, Pope John Paul II.
John Paul was a great leader, globally respected and admired, but by the end, his reign had degenerated into a religious sideshow. Not unlike banana republic dictators whose health is questioned by rivals, the Holy Father would be trotted out for major religious observations just to appease the masses.
The poor man could barely stand, was perpetually slumped forward as he sat on St. Peter's throne and needed help just to read words off sheets of paper held up by his aids.
At the end, Pope John Paul II was reduced to looking like a Disneyland animatronic character waving mechanically from the pope mobile as it worked its way through the throngs of faithful. All that was missing was a robotic Brer Bear thumping on a metal wash tub. It was more sad than inspiring.
The leader of a major religion with 1.2 billion adherents should not be a joke or a punchline.
Regardless of what modern medicine can wreak in the longevity department, there comes a time when the tires start losing their grip on the reality highway.
We all have an elderly relative or three who, as they age, grow less and less concerned about what other people think and just say whatever comes into their mind. Grandpa or crazy Aunt Judy can mutter an insincere apology for their outbursts, but when the Holy Father, St.
Peter's ambassador himself, utters something about how cats taste like chicken or extolling the spiritual benefits of dancing the hokey pokey, it's not so easy to overlook.
When Grandpa mouths off in an embarrassing fashion, it's quaint. When the pope does it, it's dogma.
The notion of a job for life has become an antiquated expectation throughout the world. Economic forces have made most people acutely aware of how easily they can be replaced, while in the corporate suites, even the magnates, nabobs and barons are open to the idea of either golden parachutes or the outright sale of their holdings in favour of retirement to a life of leisure.
Even governmental appointments come with an expiry date now. Canada's Governors General rarely die in office now and the Canadian Senate, long a bastion of governance through dementia and absentia, requires its members to step away from the trough once they reach the age of 75.
All that's left in the "jobs for life" career path are the Third World dictator, European nobility, U.S.
Supreme Court Justice, religious leaders and beloved hall of fame athlete.
On Monday morning, Pope Benedict XVI made a bold move to take the job of pontiff off that list. The world is changing quickly and, quite frankly, an institution like the Roman Catholic Church that holds sway over such a large chunk of the world's population, cannot afford to have a prolonged leadership vacuum at the top owing to the declining health of the current pope.
Interestingly, Pope Benedict's decision comes at a time when the Church of Rome is engaged in a media campaign urging lapsed Catholics to return to the fold.
By stepping down while his marbles are all still in the bag, Benedict is signalling that maybe the church really is changing to reflect the world in which most of its followers dwell.
Michael Booth can be reached at mbooth@ thenownewspaper.com