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From a humble worker to a humble pastor

· Crucified with the One who was crucified for us ·

In the week that precedes Lent the Byzantine liturgy sings this troparion: “In vain do you rejoice in not eating, my soul! You abstain from food, but are not purified from passions! If you have no desire for improvement, you will be despised as a lie in the eyes of God! You will be compared to evil demons, who never eat! If you continue in sin, you will perform a useless fast: therefore, remain in constant warfare, that you may stand before the Crucified Saviour, or rather that you may be crucified with him who died for your sake: remember me, Lord, when you come into your kingdom!”. This text explains the true meaning of Christian fasting and at the end the troparion presents the central role of the Cross of Christ in the life of Christians: “Crucified with the One who was crucified for us”.

I have been unable to refrain from juxtaposing this text with Benedict XVI's words at the last General Audience of his Pontificate: “I am not abandoning the cross but am remaining in a new way with the Crucified Lord. I no longer wield the power of the office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within the bounds of St Peter's. St Benedict, whose name I bear as Pope will be a great example to me in this. He showed us the way to a life which, whether active or passive, belongs entirely to the work of God”.

When on 19 April 2005 Benedict, XVI, newly elected to the See of Peter in the Church of Rome, presented himself to his people on the Loggia of the Vatican Basilica, he described himself as “a simple and humble labourer in the vineyard of the Lord”. After almost eight years of daily humble work, often strenuous efforts, we see him handing over the vineyard – ploughed, pruned and cared for with spousal love – to another, who will continue to cultivate it.

After 28 February, Benedict XVI will not be coming down from the cross; but his concealment will illuminate the One who hung on the Cross for us. In the Byzantine liturgy, during the Reading of the Gospel at Vespers of Holy and Great Friday, the image of the Crucified One is taken down from the cross, wrapped in a winding-sheet and buried beneath the altar which becomes the tomb that disgorges the Resurrection and life. The Cross of Christ, however, remains in the middle of the nave, visible to all. Benedict XVI is humbling himself, he is disappearing, but he is leaving in the midst of the Church the life-giving Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, who for us Christians is always the tree of life that leads us to the meeting with the one true Shepherd of the Church.

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St. Peter’s Square

Sept. 20, 2019

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