The Ultimate Intervention

by Dr. Gerry Turcotte, President, St. Mary’s University

“He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the
humble his way.” ~Psalms, 25:9~

Even the most disinterested person will have been riveted by the lead up to one of the holiest times in the Church calendar. The enthusiasm that is normally generated by lenten observance, leading to the exquisite celebration of the paschal mystery, has certainly been enhanced by the drama and now the joy of the papal election. Who would have suspected, even a year ago, that Pope Benedict the XVI would stand down from office? And judging by the odds presented by bookies all over the world, very few indeed had any inkling that Cardinal Bergoglio would be declared the new Pope, this despite the fact that he had apparently been runner-up at the previous conclave.

For all the unexpected quality of this moment, it is certainly worth reflecting that Pope Benedict proved his wisdom and foresight in many ways. It has been suggested that he hinted at his own possible retirement as early as 2010 when he claimed in an interview that a pontiff ought to stand down if he felt incapable of fulfilling his duties. But credit too should be given for his timing. Lent, of course, is traditionally a period of sacrifice and want — perfect to communicate the moment of vacancy when the Holy Father is absent. Similarly, Easter presents itself as a glorious moment, moving Christians from the darkest stage in human history to the most wondrous and transcendent.

At the conclusion of St. Mary’s University  first annual Lenten pilgrimage recently, we had our edition of The Saint John’s Bible on display, and one of the images that attracted the greatest attention was a remarkable image of Christ on the Cross which illuminates Luke 23. The image, however, rendered in vibrant colours, with the cross and Jesus pictured entirely in gold leaf, fairly leaps off the page. It is an image not of death and loss but majesty and transfiguration. An image, in other words, that speaks so clearly about the promise of Easter, far from the trivialization that we so often see through advertisements celebrating the sale of chocolate eggs.

In a similar way that many have already have noted as significant, Pope Francis has risen to prominence, transfigured as much by the office, as by his humble undertaking of his post. His insistence on riding with his fellow cardinals after his election rather than using the papal limousine; his decision to walk among the people outside the walls of the Vatican, much to the chagrin of his security detail; and his choice of riding in an open vehicle rather than the more secure pope mobile: all these gestures signal back to his life in Argentina where he used public transportation and cooked his own meals in his humble apartment.

These gestures of humility remind us, as Bishop Fred Henry recently pointed out, that Pope Francis is “thoroughly a man of the people. It’s become a wonderful story indicating a new freshness, a new closeness to people. Someone who is with us who understands what our mind and heart is.” For me this is the message of Easter, and the story of the Messiah, who Himself was the quintessential embodiment of humility, who cared for the disenfranchised, and who invited us to become more than we were or ever could be through this ultimate intervention on our behalf.