11 February 2016

‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ Sunday Reflections, 1st Sunday of Lent, Year C

Sistine Chapel, Vatican [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”  Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
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 this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”  Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
    and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    to protect you,’
‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Kyrie eleison, and Intercessions in different languages
Taizé - Pilgrimage of Trust in Rome
Prayer presided by Holy Father Benedict XVI
St Peter's Square, 29 December 2012

I first posted this reflection on 14 February 2013 just after Pope Benedict had announced that he was stepping down.

I can't help reflecting on this gospel in the light of Pope Benedict's announcement last Monday when he said, Well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome.

When the devil tempts Jesus with the promise of glory and power Jesus quotes from Scripture, You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.

Tomb of St Gregory the Great, St Peter's, Rome [Wikipedia]

In an audience in 2008 speaking about St Gregory the Great, who reluctantly had become Pope Gregory I, Pope Benedict said, Recognizing the will of God in what had happened, the new Pontiff immediately and enthusiastically set to work. From the beginning he showed a singular enlightened vision of the reality with which he had to deal, an extraordinary capacity for work confronting both ecclesial and civil affairs, a constant and even balance in making decisions, at times with courage, imposed on him by his office.

The following day Pope Benedict said, Gregory remained a simple monk in his heart and therefore was decidedly opposed to great titles.  He wanted to be—and this is his expression—servus servorum Dei. Coined by him, this phrase was not just a pious formula on his lips but a true manifestation of his way of living and acting. He was intimately struck by the humility of God, who in Christ made himself our servant. He washed and washes our dirty feet. Therefore, he was convinced that a Bishop, above all, should imitate this humility of God and follow Christ in this way.  His desire was to live truly as a monk, in permanent contact with the Word of God, but for love of God he knew how to make himself the servant of all in a time full of tribulation and suffering. He knew how to make himself the “servant of the servants.”  Precisely because he was this, he is great and also shows us the measure of true greatness.

Pope Benedict, Zagreb, Croatia, June 2011 [Wikipedia]

Pope Benedict points out that it was his reluctant predecessor who coined the phrase that has become one of the titles that goes with the papacy, Servus servorum Dei, 'Servant of the servants of God'.

The call to be pope is a call to serve. Canon law, No 332, allows for the possibility of a pope to step down. But until now no pope has taken that step for 598 years and the previous few instances of it happening have been surrounded by controversy.

Blessed John Paul II wrote a letter of resignation in 1989 to be implemented in very specific situations that might arise. But he chose to remain pope until his death, despite his increasing incapacity in the last couple of years. Many of us were moved by his last public appearance on Easter Sunday 2005, six days before his death, when this once very athletic man with a powerful voice could only stand at his window and give a wordless blessing. Was his temptation to leave office, a temptation that with God's grace he didn't yield to?

Was the temptation of Pope Benedict to cling on to his office of service when he judged that he wasn't capable of doing so? Did he, with God's grace, refuse to yield to that temptation?

None of us can ever fully  know the depths of another person. But we can be touched by the actions of others.

Was it part of Blessed John Paul's vocation to teach us the value of suffering in old age, the value of accepting infirmity and disability, to refuse to yield to the temptation not to serve any more? 

Is it part of Pope Benedict's vocation to teach us the value of letting go of authority in order to allow another to exercise that same God-given authority in serving the Church and the world?

Many adult children and their parents are faced with choices such as Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict have faced. It can be a source of great anguish when it is clear that an older parent needs full-time care, the kind of care that their adult children cannot give, the kind of care that means their leaving home. I have never been faced with this situation as my mother died suddenly at 55 and my father at 74. But friends have told me of their suffering in this situation.

Fr Gabriel Harty OP (above), known as the Irish Rosary Priest and now over 90, wrote in Pioneer magazine in November 2012:

As National Director of the rosary apostolate for almost sixty years, I realise that I had made a name for myself in certain quarters and that I had, as it were, built up a little kingdom of my own. Then one day I heard the news, that I was no longer to be in control. A big white van came down from the North to clear everything out of what was once my office, my home, my sanctuary to establish the Rosary Centre elsewhere. I confess that I felt angry. Like so many at this time of recession who find themselves redundant, or like those who have to move aside to let the young take over, I went through a process of grieving. I confess that I failed to recognise the times, or come to terms with my own declining years.

In the midst of a time of darkness, it was the Lord's own prayer that helped me. Unable to run around the country anymore preaching to the crowds, I took time to walk up and down the Gethsemane back-garden of a dear friend who understood my predicament. As I would begin the Our Father, it would slowly dawn on me, that it was not my name that mattered or my kingdom that had to be preserved . . .

We will be without a Holy Father for some weeks because at 8pm Roman time on 28 February Pope Benedict XVI will renounce the papacy. Before Easter, God willing, we will have a new Holy Father. [Pope Francis was elected on 13 March 2013.]

Lent is a time of prayer, penance and renewal for the whole Church and for each member, a time to prepare to celebrate the great Feast of Easter, the Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict's decision 'sharpens' all of this for us. A time of renewal is also a time of gratitude. We can thank God for Pope Benedict's gentle ministry, one in which he kept reminding us that our faith is in a Person, Jesus Christ, God who became Man.

This Lent is a time for earnest prayer that each of the cardinals who will assemble in March in Rome to elect a new pope will desire to be fully open to the Holy Spirit so that the one they choose will be the one whom God wills to be our new Holy Father. Let us pray that they will not be tempted to see the election as anything other than a searching for God's will as to who should be the next Servus servorum Dei, 'Servant of the servants of God'.

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, 2014 [Wikipedia]


(12-18 FEBRUARY 2016)

Visit to Ciudad Juárez, Wednesday 17 February

Columban Fr Kevin Mullins, Ciudad Juárez

Fr Kevin Mullins is a Columban from Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, who has worked in Chile and in Britain. For the past seventeen years he has been in Corpus Christi Parish, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, USA. The parish, along with a presence in El Paso, is part of the Columban Border Ministries of the Region of the United States. Sainiana Tamatawale, a Columban Lay Missionary from Fiji is also in Corpus Christi Parish. Monika Lewatikana, another Fijian Columban Lay Missionary, worked in the parish for some years but is now on the Columban Border Ministries team in El Paso.

On Wednesday 17 February Pope Francis will visit Ciudad Juárez and celebrate Mass near its border with the USA. 

A news report about Fr Kevin Mullins on 7 News, Australia, 2012

Fr Mullins has written about his experience in the March-April 2014 issue of MISYONonline.com. Read Tears and Light in Juarez. He also had an article in the July-August 2012 issue: Executions - a Common Event.

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