As the world watches Pope Francis begin his ministry as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, the readings we have for our second day of Lent take us back to the most basic decisions. And it’s either/or, not both/and. “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword” (Isaiah 1:19-20). This is the stark way that the Old Testament puts it. We like to think that we can have it all, but we can’t. This is the same message at the end of Deuteronomy, where the Lord summarizes all that He says in the five books of Moses and gives the people of Israel a clear choice between blessing and curse, life and death. This is not about punishment; it’s about spiritual reality. As today’s Proverbs reading says, “Those who follow their own way will “eat of the fruit of their own way” (Proverbs 1:31).
The creation of the universe is good. From the vastness of planets, stars, galaxies, to the “abundance of living creatures,” to the microscopic and subatomic—all witnesses to God’s nature as overflowing with boundless love, generosity, goodness and creativity. We would discover this so much more if only we would choose to follow His way and not our own.
Inaugural Mass of Pope Francis
As word comes in from Metropolitan Tikhon or Father Eric we’ll update you, but already we have a few of Father Eric’s photos sent earlier this morning from Rome. In the meantime, I was up at 4:30 a.m. to watch the CNN coverage of the inaugural Mass from Saint Peter’s Square. 100,000-200,000 worshippers and pilgrims from around the world, political leaders (including VP Joseph Biden), representatives of other religions and churches. Some 500 priests distributed communion to the crowd. During the Mass Pope Francis exchanged the kiss of peace with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Armenian Catholicos Karekin II. I caught a glimpse of Metropolitan Tikhon standing with the other Orthodox bishops in a section next to the vested concelebrating Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops.
The Pope’s sermon after the Gospel (Matthew 1:16, 18-21,24a, read in Greek)—for the feast of Saint Joseph “the betrothed” emphasized Joseph’s role as protector, and drew out the message that we are all called to be protectors, custodians, stewards of one another, especially of the weakest among us and God’s creation (a theme that would resonate well with Patriarch Bartholomew, known as the “Green Patriarch” for his dedication to care for the environment.) He also spoke of protecting our hearts—fitting for the spiritual effort of Great Lent—since this is where actions good and bad have their seeds and take root.
At the close of the outdoor Mass, Pope Francis went back into Saint Peter’s Basilica and prayed before the tomb of Saint Peter, the first Bishop of Rome. Whatever differences still exist between us, it is gratifying to see Orthodox and Catholics coming together around the apostolic faith in the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, whom Saint Peter witnessed, preached and died for.