On Wednesday, March 5, 2014, we will once again enter the liturgical season of Lent. The spiritual texts of the First Sunday of Lent, with their vivid imagery of desert fasting and temptation announces the season’s fundamental message of sin, grace and the triumph of the new Adam. As we begin the season by being signed on the forehead with ashes, we will hear the Lord’s call to radical conversion and trust in God’s mercy once again.
Each year, the Holy Father sends us a special message for Lent. This year Pope Francis invites all of us to a life of evangelical poverty. He goes on to tell us that Christ, the eternal Son of God, is the primary revelation of exactly what this life of evangelical poverty is all about. First of all, it tells us that Jesus did not reveal himself to us cloaked in worldly power and wealth, but rather in weakness and poverty. Although Jesus was one with the Father in power and glory, he chose to empty himself and be poor so that he could be like us in all things (Phil 2:7).
By choosing to be poor, Jesus did not seek poverty for its own sake, but as an example to us that we may become rich. It is certainly significant that St. Paul tells us that we were set free, not by Christ’s riches but by his poverty even though he was well aware of the divine riches of Jesus. And exactly how were we set free and enriched by the power of Jesus? It is in the manner in which he loves us with tenderness, compassion and solidarity of love, taking upon himself our weakness and sins. Ultimately, the wealth of Jesus lies within his unique relationship with the Father as the beloved Son whose only desire is to do the Fathers’ will and give glory to Him.
Jesus continues to make himself poor in our midst in the sacraments, in his word and in his Church. As imitators of our Lord we are all called to be highly aware of the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to be able to touch it, to own it and to be generous and courageous enough to take steps to alleviate it. Our consciences, therefore, need to undergo an ongoing conversion to justice, simplicity and sharing.
In the poor and the outcast, we see the image of Christ. By loving and helping the poor, we are at the same time loving and serving Christ. All our efforts, to the degree of our capability, should be directed to alleviate the poverty of others, be it spiritual or material poverty. In the realm of spiritual poverty there is the enslavement of individuals to vice and sin. Each day, we know that many families are experiencing pain because one of their members – often a very young person – is addicted to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography. How many people have given up hope in the meaning of life or bright prospects for the future? There are also many other types of destitution that cause us to turn away from God and to reject his love. Ultimately, if one thinks that he has no need of God, who is continually reaching out to us through Christ, and that he can make his own way through life, he is headed for failure. It is only through the power and love of God that we can be saved and set free.
The Gospel is the only real answer to spiritual destitution. As disciples of Christ, we are called to proclaim the good news that God is greater than our sinfulness and that we were made to be united with Him in eternal life. The Lord commissions us to be joyous heralds of the Good News, sharing the treasure entrusted to us. This is essentially the message that our Holy Father wishes to share with us.
From the very beginning of Lent, in the third and fourth centuries, the season of Lent has presented us with a double task: it is time for us to renew our baptismal promises and commitment, and it is also time for stressing penance. In a word, it is a time for conversion.
For Saint Francis and his followers, the season of Lent was the most special time of the year – one which they observed with particular devotion (Rule of 1221, Ch. 3). It disposed Francis and his disciples to a total openness to God’s call to repentance and renewal, nurtured by prayer and strengthened by the asceticism of fasting and proving itself in good works.
Throughout this holy season, as we relive the saving paschal mystery of Christ, may we continue to grow in faith and love of the Lord, so as to participate with Him in that dynamic of love for the Father and all of the brothers and sisters that we may encounter in our lives. May this season truly be a time of renewal and conversion for all of us.
Sincerely in Christ,
Fr. Dominic F. Scotto, TOR