Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap
Lent is a season of repentance, prayer and fasting. The season lasts for forty days beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Easter. This year’s Lent will be starting on March 1st and shall end on Saturday 15 April.
As The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “by the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to themystery of Jesus in the desert” (no. 540). Thus, as Pope Francis rightly points out in the Lenten Message for this year, “Lent is a favorable season for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. At the basis of everything is the word of God, which during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply”.
But what does the Word of God tell us in this year’s Lenten season? What is the message that is being conveyed to us by “theGod and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Cor 1:3) through the Successor of Saint Peter, Pope Francis? The title of the Holy Father’s message for Lent 2017 is very telling: The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift. In other words, Lent is about rediscovering and being transformed in the Incarnation of God himself, Jesus Christ!
The gist of the Lenten message is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31). Jesus Christ is present in every person we come across, especially the poor. For Pope Francis sincere conversion to Christ implies helping the destitute and theneedy. In fact he says: “Lent is a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ. Each of us meets people like this every day. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable” (no. 1). Therefore, as the Holy Father explains, the person of “Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value” (no.1).
Unfortunately, the rich man shows his interior misery by not acknowledging the inherent value of Lazarus. As Pope Francis demonstrates, “the rich man’s greed makes him vain. His personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what he can do. But his appearance masks an interior emptiness. His life is a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 62)” (no.2). The rich man represents those who are “corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. Theresult of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door” (no. 2).
The greatest gift the Word of God can give us during this Lent is the realization that we are “one human family” (no. 3). Thus, as the Pope aptly stresses, let us engage in “the culture of encounter… Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in thevictory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter” (no. 3).
The Pope’s message can be encapsulated into that powerful exhortation which Saint Basil of Caesarea (330-370) gave to his Christian community he was pastoring when he said: “The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry man; the coat hanging in your closet belongs to the man who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the man who has no shoes;the money which you put into the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help but fail to help”.
Is this not the spiritual journey me and you are called to follow not only during this Lent but throughout our entire lives until we reach the Heavenly Jerusalem? How can we miss this God-given opportunity?