"Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem..." (Mt 20:18). Lent: a time to renew faith, hope and charity".
Dear brothers and sisters:
When Jesus announces to his disciples his passion, death and resurrection, in order to fulfill the will of the Father, he reveals to them the profound meaning of his mission and exhorts them to associate themselves with it, for the salvation of the world.
As we travel the Lenten journey, which will lead us to the Easter celebrations, let us remember the One who "humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:8). In this time of conversion let us renew our faith, let us quench our thirst with the "living water" of hope and let us receive with open hearts the love of God that makes us brothers and sisters in Christ.
On Easter night we will renew the promises of our Baptism, to be reborn as new men and women, thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit. However, the Lenten journey, like the entire Christian journey, is already under the light of the Resurrection, which animates the feelings, attitudes and decisions of those who wish to follow Christ.
Fasting, prayer and almsgiving, as Jesus presents them in his preaching (cf. Mt 6:1- 18), are the conditions and expression of our conversion. The way of poverty and deprivation (fasting), the gaze and gestures of love towards the wounded (almsgiving) and the filial dialogue with the Father (prayer) allow us to incarnate a sincere faith, a living hope and an active charity.
1. Faith calls us to embrace the Truth and to be witnesses, before God and before our brothers and sisters.
In this time of Lent, to welcome and live the Truth that was manifested in Christ means first of all to allow ourselves to be reached by the Word of God, which the Church transmits to us from generation to generation. This Truth is not a construction of the intellect, destined for a few chosen, superior or illustrious minds, but is a message that we receive and can understand thanks to the intelligence of the heart, open to the greatness of God who loves us before we ourselves are aware of it. This Truth is Christ himself who, assuming fully our humanity, made himself the Way - demanding but open to all - that leads to the fullness of Life.
Fasting lived as an experience of deprivation, for those who live it with simplicity of heart, leads to a new discovery of God's gift and to an understanding of our reality as creatures who, in his image and likeness, find fulfillment in him. Through the experience of an accepted poverty, the fasting person becomes poor with the poor and "accumulates" the richness of love received and shared. Thus understood and put into practice, fasting contributes to love God and neighbor insofar as, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us, love is a movement that focuses attention on the other, considering him or her as one with oneself (cf. Encyclical Letter Fratelli tutti, 93).
Lent is a time for believing, that is, for receiving God into our lives and allowing him to "make his dwelling" in us (cf. Jn 14:23). Fasting means freeing our existence from everything that hinders, even from the saturation of information - true or false - and consumer products, in order to open the doors of our heart to the One who comes to us poor in every way, but "full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14): the Son of God the Savior.
2. Hope as "living water" that allows us to continue on our way.
The Samaritan woman, whom Jesus asks to give him a drink at the well, does not understand when he tells her that he could offer her "living water" (Jn 4:10). At first, of course, she is thinking of material water, while Jesus is referring to the Holy Spirit, whom he will give in abundance in the Paschal Mystery and who instills in us the hope that does not disappoint. In announcing his passion and death, Jesus already announces hope when he says: "And on the third day he will rise again" (Mt 20:19). Jesus speaks to us of the future that the Father's mercy has opened wide. To hope with Him and thanks to Him means to believe that history does not end with our mistakes, our violence and injustices, nor with the sin that crucifies Love. It means to be satiated with the forgiveness of the Father in his open heart.
In the current context of worry in which we live and in which everything seems fragile and uncertain, to speak of hope could seem provocative. The season of Lent is made for hope, for turning our gaze once again to the patience of God, who continues to care for his Creation, while we often mistreat it (cf. Encyclical Letter Laudato Si', 32-33; 43-44). It is hope in reconciliation, to which St. Paul passionately exhorts us: "We ask you to be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20).
By receiving forgiveness, in the Sacrament that is at the heart of our conversion process, we too become disseminators of forgiveness: having received it ourselves, we can offer it, being able to live an attentive dialogue and adopting a behavior that comforts those who are wounded. God's forgiveness, also through our words and gestures, allows us to live an Easter of fraternity.
During Lent, let us be more attentive to "speaking words of encouragement, words that comfort, that strengthen, that console, that stimulate" instead of "words that humiliate, that sadden, that irritate, that scorn" (Encyclical Letter Fratelli tutti [FT], 223). Sometimes, in order to give hope, it is enough to be "a kind person, who puts aside his anxieties and urgencies to pay attention, to give a smile, to say a word that stimulates, to make possible a space for listening in the midst of so much indifference" (ibid., 224).
In the recollection and silence of prayer, hope is given to us as an inspiration and inner light that illuminates the challenges and decisions of our mission: for this reason it is fundamental to recollect ourselves in prayer (cf. Mt 6:6) and to encounter, in intimacy, the Father of tenderness.
Living Lent with hope means feeling that, in Jesus Christ, we are witnesses of the new time, in which God "makes all things new" (cf. Rev. 21:1-6). It means receiving the hope of Christ who gives his life on the cross and whom God raises on the third day, "always ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks us for a reason for our hope" (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).
3. Charity, lived in the footsteps of Christ, showing care and compassion for each person, is the highest expression of our faith and our hope.
Charity rejoices to see the other grow. For this reason, it suffers when the other is in distress: alone, sick, homeless, despised, in need... Charity is the impulse of the heart that makes us go out of ourselves and that arouses the bond of cooperation and communion.
"On the basis of "social love" it is possible to advance towards a civilization of love to which we can all feel called. Charity, with its universal dynamism, can build a new world, because it is not a sterile sentiment, but the best way to achieve effective paths of development for all" (FT, 183).
Charity is a gift that gives meaning to our life and thanks to it we consider those who are deprived of what we need as a member of our family, a friend, a brother or sister. The little we have, if we share it with love, never runs out, but becomes a reserve of life and happiness. So it was with the flour and oil of the widow of Zarephath, who gave bread to the prophet Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 17:7-16); and with the loaves of bread that Jesus blessed, broke and gave to the disciples to distribute among the people (cf. Mk 6:30-44). So it is with our almsgiving, whether large or small, if we give it with joy and simplicity.
Living a Lent of charity means caring for those who find themselves in conditions of suffering, abandonment or distress because of the AIDS pandemic. In a context of such uncertainty about the future, let us remember the word that God addressed to his Servant: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you" (Is 43:1), and let us offer with our charity a word of trust, so that others may feel that God loves them as his children.
"Only with a gaze whose horizon is transformed by charity, which leads it to perceive the dignity of the other, are the poor discovered and valued in their immense dignity, respected in their own style and culture and, therefore, truly integrated into society" (FT, 187).
Dear brothers and sisters: Every stage of life is a time to believe, to hope and to love. This call to live Lent as a journey of conversion and prayer, and to share our goods, helps us to reconsider, in our community and personal memory, the faith that comes from the living Christ, the hope animated by the breath of the Spirit and the love whose inexhaustible source is the merciful heart of the Father.
May Mary, Mother of the Savior, faithful at the foot of the cross and at the heart of the Church, sustain us with her solicitous presence, and may the blessing of the Risen Christ accompany us on the way to the paschal light.
Rome, St. John Lateran, November 11, 2020, memorial of St. Martin of Tours.