Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tempting the Church! (Lent 1A)

"Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, "To you I will give their glory and all authority; for it has been given over to me, and I will give it anyone I please."

Imagine the temerity--the sheer evil--of speaking those words directly to the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth! And face to face with Jesus, the Evil One doesn't even need to hide his identity, for Jesus knows well who he is. The temptation, like the tempter, is breathtakingly, nakedly, evil.

Jesus, of course, vanquishes this and the devil's other temptations by wielding the sword of God's Word; its power turns aside Satan's coarse insinuations and misuse of Scripture. This victory, however, does not vanquish Satan once and for all; he will continue to repeat his offer to all who will listen, until the end of time.

"To you I will give their glory and all authority; for it has been given over to me, and I will give it anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours." The words once spoken to our Lord echoed all week in the pages of newspapers, on television and the internet, as the world reacted to the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

One commentator after another promised the Church worldly success and esteem, if only she bows down before the altar of modernity--if only she rejects her ancient ways and outdated beliefs; if only she turns aside from the "conservative" legacy of Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul.

Even the usually-insightful Robert Fulford called in the National Post for "a democratic reconstruction of the Catholic Church," by which he clearly meant abandoning all doctrines which Catholics find difficult and with which he does not agree.

All we need to do in order to obtain the world's acceptance and respect is to leave behind centuries of teaching about sexual morality, the dignity of the human person, and the nature of the family. Then all will be ours, and the media will grant the Church a place among all the kingdoms of the world.

Let's be honest: the media does not speak these insidious words mainly to the Cardinals who will elect the next Pope. We can presume they are somewhat immune to such blandishments, given the graces of their episcopal office and station in the Church. The words are spoken to us--and who among us doesn't fell just a twinge of temptation at the thought of being better accepted at work, or school, or among our friends?

The media can give anyone it pleases the blessing of social acceptance, and can curse anyone it pleases with social stigma. Wouldn't it be nice to be approved instead of scorned, and at such a low price? A doctrine changed here, a dogma there. A Pope who isn't "conservative."

Yet the only response the serious Catholic can make is the one Jesus made in the wilderness. We will worship and serve only God, and we will rejoice that we have had leaders who did the same.

I read a fine response to the cacophony of analysis of the Pope's retirement on a blog maintained by young Canadian Jesuits.The entire post is dramatic and well worth reading, but I was particularly struck by how the media furore moved seminarian Santiago Rodriguez, SJ to reflect on the blessings of Pope Benedict's papacy:

Benedict XVI's resignation trended on Twitter and Facebook all day long, while television and radio commentators were discussing the news ad nauseam. Bloggers and pundits offered their opinions about what this meant for the Pope, for the Papacy, for the papal conclave and for the Church. Many opined and remarked about the Pope's greatest achievements, and where the Church and his Papacy had fallen short. I quickly grew tired of the analysis and the criticism, and started to reflect on what the Holy Father's resignation meant for me. ...

Benedict XVI has always been a teacher, and a good one at that. He admits that being a teacher has always been an important part of his vocation and his ministry. Someone once told me that people used to flock to see Pope John Paul II, but they congregate to hear Pope Benedict XVI. One only needs to attend one of his Wednesday audiences or read one of his books to realize what an amazing teacher he is. 

In his decision to resign as the Bishop of Rome, the Pope is teaching the value of acknowledging our own frailty and vulnerability. Through his actions, he is instructing us to accept ourselves as we are. He is showing us that it is alright to let down our guard. What good does it do for us to praise the Holy Father for his actions, when we are constantly attempting to appear strong, talented and knowledgeable? When we rid ourselves of the walls we build around us, we allow others in, we invite them to do likewise. In that process, we learn to accept one another as we are. We gain incredible freedom and we experience healing.

In light of this historical moment, I feel drawn to assess and rethink the way I live with my own frailty and vulnerability. I am called to reflect about my need for humility and meekness of heart. This invitation comes at a perfect time, for today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent. I think that the Pope had thought about the timing of this decision. It witnesses to the reality of Lent. In resigning and accepting his frailty and his need for prayers, Benedict XVI is testifying to the reality of this liturgical season.

As my mind wonders about the future of the Church and about the successor of this great teacher, I am in awe of the timing of this decision. For the Pope is asking us to fast and pray. He is inviting us to recollect and to pray for the Church. He knows, a little too well, that the election of a Pontiff is not a political process, but a spiritual happening. Thus, he calls us to pray for the Church and as a Church. He reminds us that Lent is the best time to ask for spiritual freedom. He displayed that freedom in his decision to step down. He is asking us to pray and to fast, in order to acquire spiritual freedom as we prepare for the election of the new Pope and for the celebration of Easter. Both celebrations require that we free ourselves from our attachments and agendas, in order to be able to follow the will of God, to continue discerning and building the Kingdom of God.

I am grateful to Benedict XVI for his great service to the Church. I am grateful for his reminder that “I must decrease while he must increase” (John 3:30). I am grateful to God the Father for the gift of this servant of the servants of God. I am thankful to Jesus for the mission he has entrusted to all of us in the Church; a mission the Pope has fulfilled so well. I am grateful to the Holy Spirit for the way the Holy Father was inspired to teach, to love and to serve, and for the way the Spirit drives us into the desert of this Lenten season to prepare spiritually, to discern and to build the Kingdom of God. 

Read the entire post here.

No comments:

Post a Comment