Walking in the Desert
First Sunday of Lent Year C
For some of us who have a deep love and affection for the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, our Lent this year might have begun rather prematurely. I remember the evening five days ago when the news was released, I was having a short nap and was awoken by a series of successive text messages on my phone from people enquiring if it was true that Pope Benedict XVI was going to abdicate the Chair of St Peter. After all, this was an unprecedented decision in the past 700 years of the Church, and none of us alive today has ever lived to see a Pope resign. Until now.
Of course, those who hated Pope Benedict XVI all along have probably forgotten Lent all together because they are busy peddling a myriad of conspiracy theories revolving around his resignation. But whatever sentiments people might have towards him, one thing is for sure, that is, everyone is mystified by this decision. What is he thinking? And what is he actually doing? After all, many of us might be thinking to ourselves that if we had been the Pope commanding the allegiance of 1.2 billion people (or so we think), the notion of resignation would have been far removed from us (I am, of course, assuming that none of us have ever been Popes before!)
Whatever he is doing, Pope Benedict XVI is certainly not making this decision to appease anyone or make anyone happy. He is doing it because it is the right thing to do regardless of what anyone - friend or foe - feels about it. In fact, more than that, he is inaugurating his Lenten journey by doing exactly what Jesus did during his desert experience: to resist the temptation to listen to any voice that contradicts the voice of God.
Contrary to what people think, he obviously is not trying to escape the rigours of his pastoral office. If he was, he would have stepped down long ago when the embers of disgrace and scandal were much hotter and more stinging than they are now. Some conspiracy theorists say he is trying to escape being arrested for alleged corruption. How stupid. If he was proven beyond doubt to be guilty of that, he would still be arrested anyway whether or not he was Pope.
Those of us who have been ordained ministers in the Church long enough know the hard realities of ministry. The fact is, we are hounded by hundreds of voices every day telling us what to do with our lives and how to run the ministries that are entrusted to us, by both people who are closest to us and people who hardly know us. Some of these voices love us, some detest us. All the same, it always hurts when we are hated and condemned, hence the very common trap (in ministry) of making decisions to please people. It is often easier to displease God because His displeasure does not become immediately apparent.
Pope Benedict XVI is just doing what he has heard God's voice telling him to do, regardless of what anybody else might have told or be telling him. This is what being in the desert with Christ is all about, having to hear voices that oblige us to make decisions that please them and yet intentionally bending ourselves towards the will of God. In the desert, Jesus heard more than the mere human voices many of us hear; he heard the most dangerously cunning voice of all: the voice of the devil.
Lent is more than just about giving something up. This "giving something up" cliche may be dangerously missing the whole point of the season, and worse still, the point of living the penitential life. At its worst, this cliche may give rise to people "giving something up" just to conform to religious pressure from church mates.
Lent is about being accompanied by Jesus in the desert. It is about bending ourselves to do the will of God, and contorting ourselves if we have to, regardless of what anyone else might feel about decisions that we have to make for God's glory. Together with that also comes the willingness to bear the condemnation and the absence of affirmation that comes with doing God's will. This very refusal to please any man would eventually lead Jesus to the cross of disgrace.
I hope that one day, if I need to, I will have half the guts that Pope Benedict XVI has to make such a tough decision for the glory of God and the good of the Church.
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