15 Feb 2013

17th February 2013 - 1st Sunday of Lent - Abdication of Pope Benedict XVI

On this weeks programme we are joined by Fr Eamonn Conway to discuss the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI which was announced during the week. We also have our regular weekly reflection on the Sunday gospel which of course this week is that of the first Sunday of Lent. We have our regular liturgical odds and ends and some notices.

This weeks podcast can be listened to HERE.
Abdication of Pope Benedict XVI from the See of St Peter
We are joined this week by Fr Eamonn Conway to reflect on the dramatic events which occurred during the past week with the announcement by Pope Benedict XVI that  "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry". The abdication was announced at a consistory of cardinals who had gathered for the announcement of the canonisation of new saints. The Pope made the announcement by his own decision in accordance with canon 332 and made it clear it was a decision being made under his own free will and determination.
[For a round up of coverage during the week, have a look at our blog post here and here].

Pope Benedict XVI visiting the remains of Pope St Celestine V in 2009

While there are a number of historical precedents with the most recent one being that of Gregory XII who abdicated the papacy in 1406 so as to enable the end of the Western Schism which saw three different claimants to the papal throne at one time. A more closer precedent would be the case of Pope St Celestine V who actually wrote the canon law being used by Pope Benedict to step aside in 1294 and who stepped down after five months as Pope. It is also interesting that Pope Celestine V is the pope who wrote the rule that the cardinals are to go into conclave until they elect a new pope as he was elected pope after a two year period without a successor to St Peter! It is also an interesting point to note that Pope Benedict XVI visited the remains of Pope St Celestine V at the Basilica Santa Maria di Collemaggio in Aquila and left his papal pallium on his grave in 2009.
The abdication could be viewed as a recognition of the proper role of the ministry of the Pope to properly lead the church which requires mental and physical health; which Pope Benedict acknowledges he no longer fully has. It demonstrates a freedom in himself to acknowledge his humanity and the frailty of that humanity. After showing the value of suffering demonstrated by John Paul II, Benedict seems to want to bring out the humanity of the papal office reminding us that Jesus Christ is at the centre of the church - yesterday, today and forever. It could be argued that for this teaching Pope, it is a final act of papal teaching, putting the papacy in its proper place.

This point was reflected in the statement from Br Alois the Prior of the Ecumenical Community at Taize

During this prayer [on Dec 29th in St Peter's Square], we were all turned together towards the Cross of Christ, and this was like an image of his whole ministry: to try and make Christians aware of what lies at the heart of the faith. He told me one day how much he appreciated that, in Taizé, young people are turned towards what is essential. And when I asked him what that essential was, he replied: a personal relationship with God.
At a time of deep-seated changes in the world, it is not easy to discern what the face of the Church of tomorrow will be. Pope Benedict XVI wanted, through his encyclical letters and his teaching, to focus his entire ministry on the foundations of faith. It is from there alone that the Church can discover how to live in the contemporary world.
When a leader steps down or dies the question always focuses on their legacy. But often it is history which is able to give a more accurate assessment of such things. Perhaps in time, the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI will be seem in his constant efforts to demonstrate the reasonableness of faith; the symbiotic relationship between faith and reason and how each compliments and develops the other. His contribution to the theological understanding of the person of Jesus in his three books. And finally one of his legacies will surely be his critique of contemporary culture and the de-humanising tendencies of that culture.

You can listen to Fr Eamonn's interview excerpted from the main programme HERE.
Gospel - Luke 4:1-13

Jesus Tempted in the Wilderness (
James J. Tissot, 1886-94)

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Lent and the gospel reading is Luke's account of Jesus' temptations in the desert in advance of the beginning of his public ministry. After being baptised by John in the Jordan and the manifestation of God; Jesus goes aside to prepare.

The example of going aside is what inspires the christian practise of Lent; a time of preparation and reflection in advance of Easter which mirrors Jesus preparation in advance of the first Easter and his journey towards Calvary.

We are all called in our daily lives at this time to make space of the silence of the desert in our daily lives. Carlo Caretto reminds us that "There are two kinds of deserts. The desolate wastelands, with their silences and overwhelming night skies, their hidden dangers, and the demands put on those who would enter them......we have also know another kind of desert - one that is constructed either by human malevolence (the gulags and camps..) or by human indifference and neglect (the slums and inner cities of our urban landscape)....It was Thomas Merton who taught us that solitude is not simply a matter of geography. All Christians need to find their desert if they wish to imitate the Christ who opened his ministry in one...The flight to the desert is not an effort to spurn the "world" and its secular inhabitants. Instead the desert is a school of love, a school of prayer, where we can learn to enter more deeply into the mystery of God who, out of love, entered so intimately into our humanity..."

The gospel also reminds us of the humanity of Jesus. Sometimes we have no problem "imagining" the divinity of Jesus but often we struggle to grasp the humanity of Jesus. The account of the temptation shows us how Jesus was "like us in all ways except in sin". It reminds us the need to constantly battle "the demons"within us; the "demons" who refuse to let God be God. We all play power games in our lives and often we try to play such games with God and in this weeks gospel Jesus refuses to engage with these temptations. He rejects what the demon is offering almost saying "I am not interested in your understanding of being powerful". But of course the temptations which the devil offers, he cant give because they are not his to give. We have nothing to give to God that has not already been given to us as gift. Everything we have is Gods gift to us and the gospel reminds us of the need to recognise our powerlessness and dependence on God's love.
Pope Benedict XVI reflected on this gospel during the Weekly General Audience on February 13th:
First of all, the desert, where Jesus withdrew to, is the place of silence, of poverty, where man is deprived of material support and is placed in front of the fundamental questions of life, where he is pushed to towards the essentials in life and for this very reason it becomes easier for him to find God. But the desert is also a place of death, because where there is no water there is no life, and it is a place of solitude where man feels temptation more intensely. Jesus goes into the desert, and there is tempted to leave the path indicated by God the Father to follow other easier and worldly paths (cf. Lk 4:1-13). So he takes on our temptations and carries our misery, to conquer evil and open up the path to God, the path of conversion. 
In reflecting on the temptations Jesus is subjected to in the desert we are invited, each one of us, to respond to one fundamental question: what is truly important in our lives? In the first temptation the devil offers to change a stone into bread to sate Jesus’ hunger. Jesus replies that the man also lives by bread but not by bread alone: without a response to the hunger for truth, hunger for God, man can not be saved (cf. vv. 3-4). In the second, the devil offers Jesus the path of power: he leads him up on high and gives him dominion over the world, but this is not the path of God: Jesus clearly understands that it is not earthly power that saves the world, but the power of the Cross, humility, love (cf. vv. 5-8). In the third, the devil suggests Jesus throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem and be saved by God through his angels, that is, to do something sensational to test God, but the answer is that God is not an object on which to impose our conditions: He is the Lord of all (cf. vv. 9-12). What is the core of the three temptations that Jesus is subjected to? It is the proposal to exploit God, to use Him for his own interests, for his own glory and success. So, in essence, to put himself in the place of God, removing Him from his own existence and making him seem superfluous. Everyone should then ask: what is the role God in my life? Is He the Lord or am I? 
Overcoming the temptation to place God in submission to oneself and one’s own interests or to put Him in a corner and converting oneself to the proper order of priorities, giving God the first place, is a journey that every Christian must undergo. "Conversion", an invitation that we will hear many times in Lent, means following Jesus in so that his Gospel is a real life guide, it means allowing God transform us, no longer thinking that we are the only protagonists of our existence, recognizing that we are creatures who depend on God, His love, and that only by “losing" our life in Him can we truly have it. This means making our choices in the light of the Word of God. Today we can no longer be Christians as a simple consequence of the fact that we live in a society that has Christian roots: even those born to a Christian family and formed in the faith must, each and every day, renew the choice to be a Christian, to give God first place, before the temptations continuously suggested by a secularized culture, before the criticism of many of our contemporaries 
The tests which modern society subjects Christians to, in fact, are many, and affect the personal and social life. It is not easy to be faithful to Christian marriage, practice mercy in everyday life, leave space for prayer and inner silence, it is not easy to publicly oppose choices that many take for granted, such as abortion in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, euthanasia in case of serious illness, or the selection of embryos to prevent hereditary diseases. The temptation to set aside one’s faith is always present and conversion becomes a response to God which must be confirmed several times throughout one’s life. 
The major conversions like that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, or St. Augustine, are an example and stimulus, but also in our time when the sense of the sacred is eclipsed, God's grace is at work and works wonders in life of many people. The Lord never gets tired of knocking at the door of man in social and cultural contexts that seem engulfed by secularization, as was the case for the Russian Orthodox Pavel Florensky. After a completely agnostic education, to the point he felt an outright hostility towards religious teachings taught in school, the scientist Florensky came to exclaim: "No, you can not live without God", and to change his life completely, so much so he became a monk. 
I also think the figure of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch woman of Jewish origin who died in Auschwitz. Initially far from God, she found Him looking deep inside herself and wrote: "There is a well very deep inside of me. And God is in that well. Sometimes I can reach Him, more often He is covered by stone and sand: then God is buried. We must dig Him up again "(Diary, 97). In her scattered and restless life, she finds God in the middle of the great tragedy of the twentieth century, the Shoah. This young fragile and dissatisfied woman, transfigured by faith, becomes a woman full of love and inner peace, able to say: "I live in constant intimacy with God." 
The ability to oppose the ideological blandishments of her time to choose the search for truth and open herself up to the discovery of faith is evidenced by another woman of our time, the American Dorothy Day. In her autobiography, she confesses openly to having given in to the temptation that everything could be solved with politics, adhering to the Marxist proposal: "I wanted to be with the protesters, go to jail, write, influence others and leave my dreams to the world. How much ambition and how much searching for myself in all this!". The journey towards faith in such a secularized environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts nonetheless, as she points out: "It is certain that I felt the need to go to church more often, to kneel, to bow my head in prayer. A blind instinct, one might say, because I was not conscious of praying. But I went, I slipped into the atmosphere of prayer ... ". God guided her to a conscious adherence to the Church, in a lifetime spent dedicated to the underprivileged. 
In our time there are no few conversions understood as the return of those who, after a Christian education, perhaps a superficial one, moved away from the faith for years and then rediscovered Christ and his Gospel. In the Book of Revelation we read: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me"(3, 20). Our inner person must prepare to be visited by God, and for this reason we should allow ourselves be invaded by illusions, by appearances, by material things. 
In this time of Lent, in the Year of the faith, we renew our commitment to the process of conversion, to overcoming the tendency to close in on ourselves and instead, to making room for God, looking at our daily reality with His eyes. The alternative between being wrapped up in our egoism and being open to the love of God and others, we could say corresponds to the alternatives to the temptations of Jesus: the alternative, that is, between human power and love of the Cross, between a redemption seen only in material well-being and redemption as the work of God, to whom we give primacy in our lives. Conversion means not closing in on ourselves in the pursuit of success, prestige, position, but making sure that each and every day, in the small things, truth, faith in God and love become most important.

Other reflections on this weeks gospel:
Word on Fire
Sunday Reflections
English Dominicans
Centre for Liturgy
Vatican Radio - Sunday Gospel 17th February
Liturgical Odds and Ends
Divine Office - Week 1
Saints of the Week
February 18th - St Colman of Lindisfarne
February 19th - Bl Fra Angelico OP
February 20th - Bl Jacinta and Francisco Marto - the Seers of Fatima
February 21st - St Peter Damian
February 22nd - The Chair of St Peter
February 23rd - St Polycarp

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