On Ash Wednesday, in the Gospel of the day, Jesus tells us: “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. ” (Mt 6:6 ).
It is not enough to go into our room and pray; we also need to shut the door.
I think these words are especially meaningful in light of the recent abdication of Pope Benedict XVI. As I read secular media’s coverage of the event, I was struck by how completely wrong many journalists were getting it. Not only was there an abundance of examples of media just not getting the facts right, there was also a rationalization and de-spiritualization of what is clearly a spiritually significant event for many people. Attempting to understand anything Catholic, without a spiritual context, leaves much in the Church looking outdated, sexist, hopelessly bureaucratic, and well, just strange. Making the Church appear to be so is passed off as being “objective journalism,” and seems to be the order of the day, but is it really objective to depict a religion as everything but its religion?
In the face of this barrage of nonsense in the media world, I have been inspired by the example of Pope Benedict himself.
Elizabeth Scalia summed it up in one of the best sentences I have read in a while:
If John Paul went out like the sustained note of a grand organ, fading into silence, Benedict simply senses his tiredness and the hour, closes up his piano, and bids us adieu. Ratzinger, in the end, is still Ratzinger: he does his work, kisses it all up to the Holy Spirit and moves on, not particularly concerned about the peripheral yakking of man or media.
Benedict has been such a beautiful example of open engagement with the secular world, while staying securely rooted in God. This is the pope who quotes Nietzsche in his book about Jesus, and who does not hesitate to say it is morally better for a male prostitute to use a condom than not. As one journalist put it after his visit to Great Britain in 2010, this man “confounds his critics.” He is humble, he is frank, he is open, he says what he means, and he does not resort to talking in sound bites to avoid media distortion and misunderstanding. This is, after all, a man who read his resignation announcement in Latin.
So, with Benedict, inspired by the words of Jesus, I am closing the door this Lent. I am going into my inner room and spending this Lent with the Father, with the door shut. It’s not locked. I can still open it and communicate with, learn from, try to influence this world we live in, and allow the good in it to influence me. I’m still here, ready and willing to build bridges from my door to your door. But, for now, I am just going to follow the example of our soon to be retired pope.
I am shutting the door and chilling with Jesus. I do this for me, for others, and so that my engagement with the world can be firmly rooted in Christ.
This is, after all, what Lent is really about.
Dear brothers and sisters, in this season of Lent, as we prepare to celebrate the event of the Cross and Resurrection – in which the love of God redeemed the world and shone its light upon history – I express my wish that all of you may spend this precious time rekindling your faith in Jesus Christ, so as to enter with him into the dynamic of love for the Father and for every brother and sister that we encounter in our lives.
- Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for Lent 2013