“The word is near you,
in your mouth and in your heart”
It is inevitable that this week’s news of the pope’s resignation captures the headlines. The resignation of a pope is quite the news’ moment. But life goes on. And most importantly, the Holy Spirit continues to work, even in and through those who have little interest in conclaves and popes.
Those who see the Church primarily as an earthly institution will be fixated on the process and politics of the conclave and the election. Even on a purely human level the events of these weeks will be both interesting and captivating.
The preparation for and outcome of the 2005 conclave, and the public interest and media reflections around that event, reminded us of the fact that there is something much bigger at work here.
And this “something bigger” was the heart of the almost eight years of papal guidance and encouragement from Pope Benedict.
In his first homily as pope he reminded us that his “real programme of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen, together with the whole Church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the Church at this hour of our history.” In this same homily he announced that the Church is alive simply because Christ is alive.
One of the key teachings of Pope Benedict is that Jesus Christ is very close to, and intimate with each and every human person. Human health and happiness are not human achievements. These basic needs are the fruit of living in personal relationship with Jesus Christ who is the human face of God.
Often we think that God is far away. The people of the Old Testament gave their lives to please and appease God. Their greatest signs of the divine presence were in the distant sky. The rainbow signalled the new covenant after the flood. In their forty desert years of pilgrimage from captivity to the land of promise, God guided them with heavenly signs, pillars of fire by night and cloud by day. If God lived in the sky (heavens) then the usual earthly place of encounter with God would be a mountain-top. Moses climbed the mountain to speak with God and returned to the people with the Law, which the people welcomed and enshrined in the Ark of the Covenant.
But in the birth of Jesus Christ, God was doing something new. Now God was experienced as living very near. His bodily legs walked earthly roads and he spoke and sang using a human voice and in human words. In Jesus, God was embracing with human arms. He loved with a human heart. Through the Incarnation, the Old Testament desert had become a space of hope-filled intimacy with God.
In his message for this year’s Lent, Pope Benedict reflects on the promise offered by the desert. He writes:
“Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual “desertification”. In the [Second Vatican] Council’s time, it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. … But it is in starting from the experience of this desert … that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us”.
“In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive. Living faith opens the heart to the grace of God which frees us from pessimism. Today, more than ever, evangelizing means witnessing to the new life, transformed by God, and thus showing the path”.
In today’s Second Reading we are reminded that the Word, who is Jesus – the human voice of God, is not only near us, but is IN us.
When I love, there God is dwelling in my human heart. Whenever I receive the Eucharist, the reality of God is literally taken into my mouth.
In the days following the death of Blessed John Paul, the then Cardinal Ratziner was the Dean of the College of Cardinals. It was his concern to guide the Cardinals into conclave to elect a new pope. On a couple of occasions in these days he spoke very strongly – in fact his name was removed from many media lists of papabile because of the clarity and passion of his words.
In his last address moments before the conclave key was turned, he led the Church in prayer. I have changed the name in his prayer to make it the ideal prayer for us in these days:
In this moment,
let us ask our Lord insistently that,
after the great gift of Pope Benedict XVI,
he will again give us a pastor
according to his heart,
a pastor who will lead us
to knowledge of Christ,
to his love, to true joy.