Friday, February 22, 2013

Whatever, Lord

With the traditional Rite of Ashes last Wednesday we entered Lent, a season of conversion and penance in preparation for Easter. The Church who is mother and teacher calls all her members to renew themselves in spirit and to turn once again with determination to God, renouncing pride and selfishness, to live in love. This Year of Faith Lent is a favourable time for rediscovering faith in God as the basic criterion for our life and for the life of the Church. This always means a struggle, a spiritual combat, because the spirit of evil is naturally opposed to our sanctification and seeks to make us stray from God’s path. For this reason the Gospel of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness is proclaimed every year on the First Sunday of Lent.

Indeed, after receiving the investiture as Messiah—Anointed—with the Holy Spirit at the baptism in the Jordan Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit himself to be tempted by the devil. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus had to unmask himself and reject the false images of the Messiah which the tempter was suggesting to him. Yet these temptations are also false images of man that threaten to ensnare our conscience, in the guise of suitable, effective and even good proposals.

The Evangelists Matthew and Luke present three temptations of Jesus that differ slightly, but only in their order. Their essential core is always the exploitation of God for our own interests, giving preference to success or to material possessions. The tempter is cunning. He does not directly impel us towards evil but rather towards a false good, making us believe that the true realities are power and everything that satisfies our primary needs. In this way God becomes secondary, he is reduced to a means; in short, he becomes unreal, he no longer counts, he disappears. Ultimately, in temptation faith is at stake because God is at stake. At the crucial moments in life but also, as can be seen at every moment, we stand at a crossroads: do we want to follow our own ego or God? Our individual interests or the true Good, to follow what is really good?
Angelus Address, February 14, 2013

Reflection – Happy Chair of St Peter! This feast day rolls around every year, and every year we are asked both to pray for the Holy Father and to give thanks for the Petrine ministry in the Church and the service of unity that it fulfills. Somehow, I am willing to bet that Catholics in general are a bit more aware of both the feast day and the papacy this particular February 22. It’s the Lent of the papacy, in a certain sense, as all eyes turn towards the Vatican to witness Benedict step down next Thursday and the cardinals gather shortly thereafter to elect a new pope.

So I’ve still been pondering this whole matter of Benedict’s resignation. I think one remarkable aspect of it is precisely what he reflects on here so beautifully. That is, the renunciation of power. ‘The true realities are power and what satisfies our needs’ – this is the way of the world. Get power and keep power. Hang on to whatever power you have until it is wrested from your hands. This happens in big ways and in small, all over the place, all the time. The power struggle, and who comes out on top. And so we have this man, certainly old and tired and perhaps sick, and carrying God-alone knows what heavy burdens of office, but nonetheless still capable of hanging on to the office, hanging on to the power.

And he is saying, ‘You know what? It’s not about power. It’s not about me. It’s about God – He is the true and only head of the Church.’ As John Paul II taught us powerfully about carrying the cross of suffering until the end, Benedict is teaching us about deep humility and self-effacement. Two different men with two different lessons to teach us.

Ultimately it is the same lesson, though. Turn to God! God is the center. God is the source. God is the Father, the one Father, the only Father. God is the One who sustains us in times of trial and empowers us to walk in fidelity to the bitter end of life. God is the One who strips us, ‘belittles’ us in the positive sense of that word, makes us very small and childlike and simple in all things.

It is God’s Church, not Benedict’s or John Paul’s or the Cardinals or yours or mine. It is God’s world, not Obama’s or Harper’s or any of the other great movers and shakers of our time. My life and your life belong to God, not ourselves. Benedict’s resignation, if we really take it to the depths of spiritual meaning, is a call to all of us to really dispossess ourselves, really detach ourselves, really dis-empower ourselves freely out of love, so that this Lent God can be a bit more all-in-all in our lives.

What that means for you and for me will vary widely depending on our circumstances. But the call is there for all of us. ‘Whatever, Lord’ – do what you will with and in me. Take everything from me or ask me to carry it all until I break—so long as you are with me ‘til the end. This is the great Lenten call our Holy Father has issued to us in this Year of Faith.

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