"Dear brothers and sisters, this Gospel episode that has been proclaimed to us finds a further and more eloquent explanation in one of the most famous artistic treasures of this Vatican Basilica: the altar of the Chair. After passing through the magnificent central nave, and continuing past the transepts, the pilgrim arrives in the apse and sees before him an enormous bronze throne that seems to hover in mid air, but in reality is supported by the four statues of great Fathers of the Church from East and West. And above the throne, surrounded by triumphant angels suspended in the air, the glory of the Holy Spirit shines through the oval window. What does this sculptural composition say to us, this product of Bernini’s genius? It represents a vision of the essence of the Church and the place within the Church of the Petrine Magisterium."
Often in the midst of political crises and changes in leadership, it is easy to forget the true "Servant of the Servants of God." Although the Papal title "Patriarch of the West" may be obsolete for some, we would do well to remember our "Papa" here in the West, particularly in the confusion and disillusion that so often permeates our culture.
Pope Benedict XVI has done so much to encourage and build a Catholic culture in the face of our modern challenges. This Lent we are reading an excellent book of Lenten meditations that he wrote while still a cardinal. In fact, the meditations were written in 1983, when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the annual Lenten Papal retreat for Pope John Paul II. In the first chapter Pope Benedict recalls Christ's own retreat into the desert:
"...the desert is a place of silence, of solitude. It is the absence of the exchanges of daily life, its noise and its superficiality. The desert is the place of the absolute, the place of freedom, which sets man before the ultimate demands. Not by chance is the desert the place where monotheism began. In that sense it is a place of grace. In putting aside all preoccupations man encounters his Creator."
The Pope goes on to briefly summarize the importance of the image of desert throughout salvation history:
"...by entering into the desert, Jesus enters also into the history of the salvation of his people, the chosen people. This history begins with the going out from Egypt, with the forty years of wandering in the desert; at the heart of these forty years we find the forty days of Moses on the mount, the days of being face-to-face with God, days of absolute fast, days away from his people in the solitude of the cloud, on the top of the mountain; from these days flows the fountain of revelation. Again, we find the forty days in the life of Elijah who-persecuted by King Ahab-went forty days' journey into the desert, so returning to the starting point of the covenant, to God's voice speaking and a new beginning in the history of salvation.
Jesus enters into this history, into the temptations of his people, into the temptations of Moses, even as Moses offered the sacred exchange: to be blotted out of the book of life for the salvation of his people. So Jesus will be the Lamb of God, who carries the sins of the world, the true Moses, who is truly 'in the bosom of the Father,' face-to-face with him and revealing him. He is truly the fountain of living water in the desert of the world, he who not only speaks but is the word of life: way, truth and life."
As we join Our Lord in the desert this Lent, let us remember our "Papa," particularly during this week when he, like Popes before him, prepares for his own Papal retreat.