My brothers and sisters in Christ,
Every year we celebrate the Lenten season with devotion. Every year we participate in liturgical celebrations with the desire to walk a journey of personal encounter with Jesus so that He gives us the grace of conversion of all our faults and sins. This year we must accept the new situation that the corona virus has created around the world. But for us, as Christians, this does not have to be a limit, but an opportunity to prepare ourselves with more dedication for the mystery of God’s infinite love in his Son, Jesus Christ.
I offer a summary of the Message of Pope Francis for Lent of this year that shows us the path of conversion by practicing faith, hope and charity.
1. Faith calls us to accept the truth and testify to it before God and all our brothers and sisters.
The truth that has been manifested in Jesus Christ asks, first, to let the word of God come and live in us, and the word is Jesus Christ himself who took our human nature, and He will be the way for everyone to reach true Life. That is why fasting places limitations on our body and renouncing something so that we can live with simplicity of heart and rediscover the gift of God, understand our reality as a creature.
When we accept living poorly, we will become poor with the poor and “accumulate” the wealth of love that gives and receives. “Fasting helps us to love God and our neighbor, since love is a movement outward that focuses our attention on others and considers them as one with ourselves” (Fratelli tutti, 93).
Lent is a time for believing, for welcoming God into our lives and allowing Him to “make his dwelling” among us (cf. Jn 14:23). Fasting involves being freed from all that weighs us down – like consumerism or an excess of information, whether true or false – in order to open the doors of our hearts to the One who comes to us, poor in all things, yet “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14): the Son of God our Savior.
2. Hope as “living water” enabling us to continue our journey.
Pope Francis invites us to read and meditate on Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman: Jesus offers the water that gives life, but the Samaritan woman, at first, thinks that he is referring to material water, while Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit, whom he will give in abundance through the Paschal Mystery, bestowing a hope that does not disappoint (Rom 5,5).
When Jesus announced his passion and death, he said that he would “be raised on the third day” (Mt 20:19). He was speaking of the future opened by the Father’s mercy. Hoping with Him and because of Him means believing that history does not end with our mistakes, our violence and injustice, or the sin that crucifies love. It means receiving from His open heart the Father’s forgiveness.
In the current reality in which we live so worried, and when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope. Yet Lent is a season of hope, when we turn back to God, Who patiently continues to care for His creation, which we have often mistreated. It is hope in reconciliation. When we receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others. God’s forgiveness, through our words and actions, enables us to live an Easter of fraternity.
In Lent may we speak words of comfort, strength, consolation, and encouragement, instead of words that demean, sadden, anger, or show scorn. In order to give hope to others, it is sometimes enough simply to be kind, to be “willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference.” (cf. Fratelli tutti, 223-224).
In the moment of silence and prayer, hope is like a light that illuminates all the challenges and choices we face in our mission. To enter intimacy, it is essential to “pray to the Father, Who sees what you are doing in secret.” (cf. Mt 6,6).
To experience Lent in hope entails growing in the realization that, in Jesus Christ, we are witnesses of the new times. It means receiving the hope of Christ, who gave His life on the cross and was raised by God on the third day, and always being “prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls [us] to account for the hope that is in [us]” (1Pet 3:15).
3. Love, following in the footsteps of Christ, in concern and compassion for all, is the highest expression of our faith and hope.
Pope Francis continues by saying that love rejoices in seeing others grow. Hence it suffers when others are anguished, lonely, sick, homeless, despised or in need. Love is a leap of the heart; it brings us out of ourselves and creates bonds of sharing and communion.
Love is a gift that gives meaning to our lives. It enables us to view those in need as members of our own family, as friends, brothers or sisters. A small amount, if given with love, never ends, but becomes a source of life and happiness. Such was the case with the jar of meal and jug of oil of the widow of Zarephath, who offered a cake of bread to the prophet Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:7-16); it was also the case with the loaves blessed, broken, and given by Jesus to the disciples to distribute to the crowd (cf. Mk 6:30-44). Such is the case too with our almsgiving, whether small or large, when offered with joy and simplicity.
Pope Francis asks us to experience Lent with love, which means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In these days of deep uncertainty about the future, let us keep in mind the Lord’s word to his Servant: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you” (Is 43:1).
Brothers and sisters, Pope Francis concludes that each stage of life is a time for believing, hoping and loving.
“Let us live this Lent as a journey of conversion, prayer and sharing of our goods, helps us – as communities and as individuals – to revive the faith that comes from the living Christ, the hope inspired by the breath of the Holy Spirit and the love flowing from the merciful heart of the Father.
“May Mary, Mother of the Savior, standing at the foot of the cross and in the heart of the Church, sustain us with her loving presence. May the blessing of the risen Christ accompany us on our journey towards the light of Easter.”
Taken from the Lenten Message 2021 of Pope Francis.
Bishop Luis Secco