Monday, February 27, 2012

Pope Benedict XVI's Message on Temptation

Any time Pope Benedict XVI speaks, you can sure you will hear a profund message.  As I have noted before, he is truly one of the deepest thinkers of our time. 

His Holiness gave a message yesterday, February 16, on temptation.  I appreciate the way in which he describes the narrative from the Gospel of Mark, which was used in the Novus Ordo Mass, as "concise, devoid of the details that we read in the other two Gospels of Matthew and Luke."   

It is a relatively short message, but packed with spiritual gems.  This speech quotes from several sources, including St. Leo the Great and Thomas a Kempis "Imitation of Christ."  In doing so, the Pope attacks the root of all the problems in our society and around the world:  trying to live life apart from God.  He shows that the answer to all of our problems are found in Christ, who came into the world, took sin upon himself and overcame it for us.  Pope Benedict XVI also invokes our Blessed Mother, for just as she was with her Son in every step of his journey, so no spiritual journey on our part is complete without her.

Pope Benedict XVI's message:
Dear brothers and sisters!

On this first Sunday of Lent, we find that Jesus, after having received baptism in the River Jordan from John the Baptist (cf. Mk 1.9), he is tempted in the desert(cf. Mk 1:12-13). The narrative of St. Mark's is concise, devoid of the details that we read in the other two Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The desert of which we speak has different meanings. It may indicate the state of abandonment and loneliness, the "place" of man's weakness where there are no supports and certainties, where temptation becomes stronger. But it may also indicate a place of refuge and shelter, as it was for the people of Israel who escaped from slavery in Egypt, where we can experience the presence of God in a special way. Jesus " remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan" (Mk 1.13). St. Leo the Great says that "the Lord willingly suffered the attack of the tempter to defend us with his help and to teach us by his example" (Tractatus XXXIX, 3 De ieiunio quadragesimae: CCL 138 / A, Turnholti 1973, 214-215) .

What can this episode teach us? As we read in the Book of the Imitation of Christ, " as long as he lives, man is never wholly free from the temptation... but with patience and true humility we become stronger than any enemy" (Liber I, c. XIII , Vatican City 1982, 37), patience and humility to follow the Lord every day, learning to build our life not outside of Him or as if He did not exist, but in Him and with Him, because He is the source of true life. The temptation has always been present in human history to remove God, to order our lives and the world on our own, relying solely on our own abilities.

Jesus proclaims that " This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand" (Mk 1.15), He announces that something new happens in Him: God speaks to man in an unexpected way, with a unique and concrete closeness, full of love, God becomes incarnate and enters the world of man to take sin upon himself, to overcome evil and bring man back into the world of God. But this proclamation is accompanied by a corresponding request for such a great gift. In fact, Jesus adds: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1.15), it is an invitation to have faith in God and to convert our lives each day to his will, directing all our actions and thoughts towards good. The season of Lent is a time to renew and strengthen our relationship with God through daily prayer, acts of penance, works of fraternal charity.

Let us fervently beseech the Blessed Virgin Mary to accompany us on our Lenten journey with her protection and may She help impress the words of Jesus Christ upon our hearts and in our life, to convert ourselves to Him. I also commend to your prayers the week of Spiritual Exercises that I begin this evening with my collaborators of the Roman Curia.

I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present for this moment of prayer. In these first days of Lent, I invite you to embrace the spirit of this holy season, through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As we do so, may the Lord accompany us, so that, at the end of Lent, we may worthily celebrate his victory on the cross. God bless all of you abundantly!

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