Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent
Isaiah 1:10, 16-20
In two days’ time the Catholic Church will begin a journey at once familiar and uncharted. Pope Benedict XVI will lay down his ministry as Bishop of Rome and leader of the universal church, and entrust the work of selecting a successor to the Holy Spirit working through the collective wisdom of 116 elector cardinals. Not that having a new pope is a new experience for most of us-this will be my seventh. But the election of a new pope while his predecessor is still living is new for us all and is giving those fascinated by Vatican protocols lots to brood over.
Reactions to Pope Benedict’s decision range from the incredulous "Pope’s don’t resign, they die," to the humorous like the cartoon that depicts a Vatican official asking the Pope, "You’re giving up WHAT for Lent?" But most have used words that echo throughout today’s readings: humility, courage, service, and love. Being pope is never about being pope, but about always pointing us to God and encouraging us to live a life infused with the love of Christ.
Lent seems to be a most natural time for this unprecedented handing on of the role and responsibilities of being the Servant of the Servants of God. In today’s gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus extols his friends, "The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." The papal ministry is not about the person who is pope but the ministry of being our universal pastor, the one who loves and cares for us all, but most of all those unloved, unwanted, poor, hungry and abandoned.
One of those who will gather in March to elect a successor to Benedict XVI is the Cardinal Archbishop of Manila (Philippines), Luis Antonio Tagle. Reflecting the straight talk of Jesus in today’s Gospel, Cardinal "Chito," as he called in his homeland, once told an audience, "Like those who opposed Jesus in the name of authentic religion, we could be blind to God and neighbors because of self-righteousness, spiritual pride and rigidity of mind." He went on to say, "[Church] customs and persons, when naively and narrowly deified and glorified, might become hindrances to true worship and compassion."
As the wheels of change gain speed in the weeks ahead, those given the enormous responsibility of electing a new pope will exercise their role in the midst of Lent when, as Isaiah the Prophet says in today’s first reading, we are all to hear again God’s word: "Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow."
Robert Hotz is a consultant with American City Bureau, Inc. and is the Director of The Passion of Christ: The Love That Compels Campaign for Holy Cross Province.