‘I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms'
It was the Holy Spirit who led Jesus went into the wilderness; He was filled with the Spirit throughout the ordeal of fasting and battle. After forty days and nights He was weak with hunger and it is when we are most fragile that the devil makes his strongest attack against our vulnerability.
There is the temptation to power; to be strong instead of weak; to be in control. Satan says to Jesus ‘I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms, for it has been committed to me and I give it to anyone I choose. Worship me, then, and it shall all be yours.’ This is very attractive, seductive.
Up until the time of Paul VI the popes wore a triple tiara and were carried shoulder high on a throne. But I heard somewhere that a man would walk beside the pope saying something like the Ash Wednesday refrain 'remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return' - reminding him that, amid all the pomp, glory and power, he was a mortal human being like the rest of us.
Pope Benedict XVI was presented with a triple tiara in 2011, though I don't know if he wore it, but he did not need anyone to remind him of his humanity, his frailty. He was tuned into it himself; perhaps he had often confronted his own vulnerability and was neither surprised by it nor afraid of it when it announced its presence in his old age.
It is hard for a man (more so than a woman) to acknowledge his vulnerability to himself but to announce it to the whole world, as Benedict did, takes a lot of courage and humility.
Neither was the pope clinging to the "power" of his office but like Christ he has found the freedom to empty himself of his position and all that goes with it.
Whatever else Pope Benedict XVI has done, whatever criticisms of him people have, whatever failures - what he has done this week cannot be denied. And in making his decision he has given us all permission to face up to and acknowledge our vulnerability and to let go of the "powers" we might cling to.
Most of us are not in positions that give us any kind of power as it is understood but within all of us there is a desire for power, a drive to have power over someone or something. This is a reality present in every man, woman and child, though not everyone exercises it.
However, many people do exercise power negatively in their relationships, seeking to control the life of another, actually controlling the other by psychological or emotional fear, by violence, by silence and many other ways. We live in a time when it has become acceptable to be aggressive in the way we treat others, believing we have the right to treat another in any way that we choose, without taking responsibility for our words and actions. Bullying at all levels and ages of life is present everywhere.
Our aggression often masks our vulnerability - we lash out because we are hurting. We become the wounded who wound others when we might become the wounded healer.
Our journey into the desert of Lent brings us face to face with our demons and our brokenness, our hunger for power and control. The temptations present in these realities can be fed by giving into them or they can exhaust themselves by our refusal to be seduced by them.
In sickness and age we find ourselves losing all sorts of ordinary "powers" that we need for living - sight, hearing, limbs, health, minds - and it is my prayer that Pope Benedict can inspire us to find hope in Christ the Powerless One in whom all our losses and sufferings are lifted up.