Pope Francis’ message for Lent
This year in his message for Lent, Pope Francis addresses believers and the men of good will: “I would like my invitation to extend beyond the bounds of the Catholic Church and reach all of you, men and women of good will, who are open to hearing God’s voice”. The Holy Father is asking everyone to be very careful about what can get in our way along the path of faith and life, in particular, says the Pope, the danger of our love growing cold. Dante Aligheri’s beautiful image picturing Satan seated on a throne of ice is very striking: “he lives in frozen and loveless isolation”. In fact, the title of the Pope’s message refers to the Gospel according to Matthew – Mt24,12: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold”.
What shall we do then, says the Pope? “Perhaps we see deep within ourselves and all about us the signs I have just described. But the Church, our mother and teacher, with the often bitter medicine of the truth, offers us in this Lenten season the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting”.
The Prophet Habakkuk had already cried out: “Why do you show me iniquity and look upon oppression?” Habakkuk’s cry belongs to many. In many instances of life we are often victims and witnesses of iniquity, injustice and oppression of all kinds. It is also true that at times we are accomplices, by our silence or by turning our heads and looking the other way. The Prophet then listens to God’s answer:“ write the vision, for the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak and not lie and though it tarry, wait for it because it will surely come ”. He concludes: “the righteous man shall live by his faith”. What is faith then? It is that faith which gives us the strength to fight while awaiting His return. In fact, we are living the Eucharist “until He shall come again” “waiting for His coming”. Then we must always remember that faith was not born from memory of Jesus, from someone who only told us about it..
Faith was born from a presence, not from a remembrance (without disturbing the sleep of the traditionalists who are living a Church of remembrance not presence). Christ shall return and we are waiting for him, but he is already present in the gift of the Spirit. He stood in the midst of those who tell us about the Risen one in the Gospels. Jesus becomes a presence within a community able to sustain the fear, the danger, but I would say, above all, for eight days we also bear on our shoulders the incredulity, Thomas’s unbelief, his lack of faith and who knows of how many others. Thomas doubts, he does not believe and yet he stays within the community and nobody even thinks of chasing him away: he stays in a group which does not exclude him, sustains and does not isolate anybody. How beautiful is the Church which welcomes and does not exclude or isolate anybody. A Church which, just like Jesus, is always waiting for you with open arms, indeed it comes looking for you, respectful even of our little faith and our fears.
We must all be very careful about parting too quickly from faith, hope and charity because deep down they are one thing only. Throughout history we have known men of faith who destroyed so much hope, especially that of the poor. We have known men of faith without charity who have killed other men. It is also not a good thing to distinguish too rigidly between believers and unbelievers. There are some who say they believe in God but they do not believe in man; others say they do not believe but serve man, especially the weak and the undefended. Only the Spirit can distinguish among them while we wait for the Truth.
For this reason must we begin the Lenten journey with so much faith. “If at times the flame of Charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He always gives us a chance to begin loving anew”.