Yesterday, the Holy Father’s message for Lent was published. Lent is a favourable season for prayer,which will lead us to the Easter Triduum, the heart of the liturgical year.On Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, the Church performs a simple gesture which reminds us of the frailty of human nature, of being creatures. However, the fact of being created, in the Christian vision,does not mean to be reduced to a negative note, or lesser than the human being, his nature and his potentialities. To be creatures assumes the existence of a God, a Creator, who has loved us “from our Mother’s womb” and takes care of us. God, Creator, yes, but even before that a Father. In fact, the Creed, , the symbol of the Christian faith, recites: “I believe in one God,Father Almighty, the Makerr of Heaven and Earth”. The word almighty describes the “role” of God as Father. God is a father who can do everything for his children by virtue of his love which binds him to them. In this human creature, desired, loved and looked after by God , lives the Spirit, “who is the Lord and gives life”. The Spirit – the love which binds the Father to the Son – will be with us like a comforter, remaining with us all our days “until the end of the world”. An eternal gift. In this year’s message, Pope Francis invites us to look after these gifts, two in particular.
The Word is a gift. Other people are a gift. Is the title of Francis’ text which reflects on the biblical parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus. (see Luke 16,19- 31).
“Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbour or an anonymous pauper”( Message for Lent 2017)
To live the Eucharist is to participate in the gift of mercy which becomes Bread and Wine, i.e. the food of lifein regard to a fullness of life for all men of good will. Lent can be an appropriate time to ask the Lord to give us the will to renew our relationships, to pronounce not the words which win, but those which touch people’s hearts and which take care of all those like poor Lazarus crouching in front of our doors.
“The rich man’s real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God’s word. As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbour. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our heart to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.” ( Message for Lent 2017)
To understand properly what the Word of God says about the relationship between the Rich Men and the weak and the poor like Lazarus, it is essential to avoid living like the «the complacent of Sion» about whom the Prophet Amos talks and create a system of justifications so that there could be tenthousand poor men like Lazarus in front of our doors and “the Richman” will not even know that they’re there. Our modern day glutton builds a house with gates, gives alms to the poor, makes a provision for the Third World, in order not to have the bother of Lazarus at his door.
This papal message on Lent will be read in all the Catholic churches in the world but tomorrow Lazarus will be like his today. Nothing changes. And this because the Word and Pope Francis’ evangelical words risk becoming trapped in a system which wants to make them innocuous, without any efficacy on the level of reality. This is the abyss which some people wish to create. Indeed, we can all see that the abyss between the poor men like Lazarus and the gluttons is becoming wider and wider. The gluttons decided centuries ago that they cannot allow promiscuity among those who are inside and those who are without.. Lazarus must stay outside the system, our cities. The Bible uses the term Encampment. Not only is Lazarus an outcast, he must also be convinced that this is normal, that it is just. Exclusion touches him within, in his conscience.
However, our society wishes to aspire to the great principles of Christianity and Enlightenment but finds itself making an impossible squaring of the circle. It pretends to include in its midst Lazarus, the outcast but doesn’t succeed because it would be in contrast with its fundamental principles. The system excludes those who threaten its integrity. Migrants are the Lazarus of the twenty-first century.
God however prefers Lazarus. In fact, God is Lazarus in this world. Jesus went out among the unclean to teach them to stop calling themselves unclean, to look at the encampment and discover that the encampment is unclean.. This is the revolution, the upheaval. The Beatitudes are made up of those like Lazarus. Jesus came to awaken the consciences of the outcasts so that they stop considering themselves legitimately outcast, so that they know the future is in their hands. “The parable is unsparing in its description of the contradictions associated with the rich man (cf. v. 19). Unlike poor Lazarus, he does not have a name; he is simply called “a rich man”. His opulence was seen in his extravagant and expensive robes. Purple cloth was even more precious than silver and gold, and was thus reserved to divinities (cf. Jer 10:9) and kings (cf. Jg 8:26), while fine linen gave one an almost sacred character. The man was clearly ostentatious about his wealth, and in the habit of displaying it daily: “He feasted sumptuously every day” (v. 19). In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride (cf. Homily, 20 September 2013).”( Message for Lent 2017)
Many have tried to enroll Jesus as the guardian of the Encampment and have done everything they can to insert him in their own contexts, to make him an accommodating prophet, but Jesus did not accept. He never went into the Praetorium or the Sanhedrin as a welcome guest, he represented a threat for these two structures, that of the political-religious power and the economic power. For this he was crucified like an unclean person. «You hung him on the Cross like a criminal» said Peter, in his first sermon after Pentecost. The future of the world is with those like Lazarus; they will inherit the earth as the Beatitudes say; the poor will come towards us, not to destroy us but to tell us the words of salvation.
Then let us live this period of Lent with hope, in reflection, meditation and prayer, remembering that we are frail creatures but above all loved and protected by God the Father. This will help us to live this journey not as a penitence for its own sake, both timorous and sterile, but as a reconciliation with God the Father and a conversion towards the poor like Lazarus whom we meet on our path. Return to the Lord with all your hearts, the Prophet Joel will say to us. This means undertaking the path not to a superficial or transitory conversion but rather a spiritual itinerary involving the most intimate place in our person. The heart, in fact. It is the home of our feelings, the centre in which we develop our choices, our attitudes. That ‘come back to me with all your hearts’ does not only involve individuals but extends to the whole community. It is a summons to everyone:“Get the people together, make the mass of the people holy, send for the old men, get together the children and babies at the breast : let the newly married man come out of his room and the bride from her tent.”(Joel 2,16)