I think we are all getting used to the idea that a Pope can resign. Pope Benedict made that brave choice this past week. He set a precedent. Being the Pope is not necessarily a lifelong job. Recognizing his physical and even mental limitations he admitted he didn’t have the strength to carry on. He was aware of the state of the church, especially the Vatican, in the final years of Pope John Paul 2 who was so diminished in mind and body and he didn’t want to put us through that again. He made this brave and generous decision to step down for the good of the church. No future Pope can be trapped into thinking being the Pope is a life time job.
Today’s gospel tells of the temptations of Jesus in the desert. The desert is a place for centering one’s self. There are no distractions, nothing to entertain us. There is just the vastness and the silence and the sameness of the desert. At his baptism Jesus came to realize he was special to God and had a mission from God that he was yet to realize. Jesus goes into the desert to come to grips with his own destiny. The tempter comes to talk Jesus out of his mission. You don’t have to take this so seriously, you can go about this in an easier way. Jesus replies to these attractive suggestion by letting the tempter know that only God and God’s love can satisfy the deep hunger of the human heart,’ He wanted the tempter to know that there are far more important things in life than material wellbeing and prestige. He wanted the tempter to know that he would not abuse his God given gifts. Jesus had the insight and strength to reject these temptations because he had a single-minded commitment to God’s will for him, a commitment that characterized the whole course of his ministry and finally led him to the cross.
A temptation is an allurement, an attraction to something sinful under the allusion that it is good. Eve saw the forbidden fruit as pleasing to the eye and so she ate it. Temptation is part and parcel of all our lives. St. Paul tells us that Christ was tempted in all things but he did not sin. Someone wrote of Christ, ‘He was so embarrassingly common and little, so like us in every way but our sin, our escapes, our lies, our refusal to be what God made us to be.’ The only thing that will help us face and overcome any allurement that would separate us from God is grace of God and the example of Christ’s faithfulness to God will for him.
I wonder if during the time Pope Benedict was coming to his decision to give up being Pope if he wasn’t tempted. Did he have second thoughts? ‘Is this the right thing to do?’ ‘Am I abandoning the church?’ ‘I was elected to lead the church am I being unfaithful to that call?’ It is difficult to give up power. Did Pope Benedict face the temptation of being needed? Can we imagine a voice that whispered to Pope Benedict, ‘You can’t do this, Popes don’t give up. God called you to this office, God will see you through, God will supply for your weakness of body and mind, God will lift you up lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ If such were his thoughts he didn’t follow them but made a decision that is a blessing for him and the whole church.
Temptation is part of all our lives, temptation to forbidden pleasures, temptation to the abuse of power over others, temptation to have more of the good things of life than we really need, temptation to be deaf to the cries for justice that come from exploited men and women around the world. Temptation to be blind to the truth of the environmental crisis of our times. Sometimes we feel helpless as we face our temptations but we must know we are not alone. As St. Paul said when he faced his own temptations, ‘gladly will I glory in my infirmities, for when I am weak then I am strong in the grace of Christ.
As we continue this Mass and enter this challenging season of Lent may we be blessed with the strength to turn away from sin and believe in the good news of God’s great love for each of us and live our lives trying to be faithful to that love.