OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
FOR LENT 2015
“Make your hearts firm” (Jas 5:8)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each community and every believer. Above all it is a “time of grace” (2 Cor6:2). God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. “We love because he first has loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him. He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us. Usually, when we are healthy and comfortable, we forget about others (something God the Father never does): we are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure… Our heart grows cold. As long as I am relatively healthy and comfortable, I don’t think about those less well off. Today, this selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference. It is a problem which we, as Christians, need to confront.
When the people of God are converted to his love, they find answers to the questions that history continually raises. One of the most urgent challenges which I would like to address in this Message is precisely the globalization of indifference.
Indifference to our neighbour and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.
God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation. In the Incarnation, in the earthly life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, the gate between God and man, between heaven and earth, opens once for all. The Church is like the hand holding open this gate, thanks to her proclamation of God’s word, her celebration of the sacraments and her witness of the faith which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6). But the world tends to withdraw into itself and shut that door through which God comes into the world and the world comes to him. Hence the hand, which is the Church, must never be surprised if it is rejected, crushed and wounded.
God’s people, then, need this interior renewal, lest we become indifferent and withdraw into ourselves. To further this renewal, I would like to propose for our reflection three biblical texts.
1. “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Cor 12:26) – The Church
The love of God breaks through that fatal withdrawal into ourselves which is indifference. The Church offers us this love of God by her teaching and especially by her witness. But we can only bear witness to what we ourselves have experienced. Christians are those who let God clothe them with goodness and mercy, with Christ, so as to become, like Christ, servants of God and others. This is clearly seen in the liturgy of Holy Thursday, with its rite of the washing of feet. Peter did not want Jesus to wash his feet, but he came to realize that Jesus does not wish to be just an example of how we should wash one another’s feet. Only those who have first allowed Jesus to wash their own feet can then offer this service to others. Only they have “a part” with him (Jn 13:8) and thus can serve others.
Lent is a favourable time for letting Christ serve us so that we in turn may become more like him. This happens whenever we hear the word of God and receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. There we become what we receive: the Body of Christ. In this body there is no room for the indifference which so often seems to possess our hearts. For whoever is of Christ, belongs to one body, and in him we cannot be indifferent to one another. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honoured, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12:26).
The Church is the communio sanctorum not only because of her saints, but also because she is a communion in holy things: the love of God revealed to us in Christ and all his gifts. Among these gifts there is also the response of those who let themselves be touched by this love. In this communion of saints, in this sharing in holy things, no one possesses anything alone, but shares everything with others. And since we are united in God, we can do something for those who are far distant, those whom we could never reach on our own, because with them and for them, we ask God that all of us may be open to his plan of salvation.
2. “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9) – Parishes and Communities
All that we have been saying about the universal Church must now be applied to the life of our parishes and communities. Do these ecclesial structures enable us to experience being part of one body? A body which receives and shares what God wishes to give? A body which acknowledges and cares for its weakest, poorest and most insignificant members? Or do we take refuge in a universal love that would embrace the whole world, while failing to see the Lazarus sitting before our closed doors (Lk 16:19-31)?
In order to receive what God gives us and to make it bear abundant fruit, we need to press beyond the boundaries of the visible Church in two ways.
In the first place, by uniting ourselves in prayer with the Church in heaven. The prayers of the Church on earth establish a communion of mutual service and goodness which reaches up into the sight of God. Together with the saints who have found their fulfilment in God, we form part of that communion in which indifference is conquered by love. The Church in heaven is not triumphant because she has turned her back on the sufferings of the world and rejoices in splendid isolation. Rather, the saints already joyfully contemplate the fact that, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, they have triumphed once and for all over indifference, hardness of heart and hatred. Until this victory of love penetrates the whole world, the saints continue to accompany us on our pilgrim way. Saint Therese of Lisieux, a Doctor of the Church, expressed her conviction that the joy in heaven for the victory of crucified love remains incomplete as long as there is still a single man or woman on earth who suffers and cries out in pain: “I trust fully that I shall not remain idle in heaven; my desire is to continue to work for the Church and for souls” (Letter 254, July 14, 1897).
We share in the merits and joy of the saints, even as they share in our struggles and our longing for peace and reconciliation. Their joy in the victory of the Risen Christ gives us strength as we strive to overcome our indifference and hardness of heart.
In the second place, every Christian community is called to go out of itself and to be engaged in the life of the greater society of which it is a part, especially with the poor and those who are far away. The Church is missionary by her very nature; she is not self-enclosed but sent out to every nation and people.
Her mission is to bear patient witness to the One who desires to draw all creation and every man and woman to the Father. Her mission is to bring to all a love which cannot remain silent. The Church follows Jesus Christ along the paths that lead to every man and woman, to the very ends of the earth (cf. Acts 1:8). In each of our neighbours, then, we must see a brother or sister for whom Christ died and rose again. What we ourselves have received, we have received for them as well. Similarly, all that our brothers and sisters possess is a gift for the Church and for all humanity.
Dear brothers and sisters, how greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially our parishes and our communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!
3. “Make your hearts firm!” (James 5:8) – Individual Christians
As individuals too, we have are tempted by indifference. Flooded with news reports and troubling images of human suffering, we often feel our complete inability to help. What can we do to avoid being caught up in this spiral of distress and powerlessness?
First, we can pray in communion with the Church on earth and in heaven. Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices united in prayer! The 24 Hours for the Lord initiative, which I hope will be observed on 13-14 March throughout the Church, also at the diocesan level, is meant to be a sign of this need for prayer.
Second, we can help by acts of charity, reaching out to both those near and far through the Church’s many charitable organizations. Lent is a favourable time for showing this concern for others by small yet concrete signs of our belonging to the one human family.
Third, the suffering of others is a call to conversion, since their need reminds me of the uncertainty of my own life and my dependence on God and my brothers and sisters. If we humbly implore God’s grace and accept our own limitations, we will trust in the infinite possibilities which God’s love holds out to us. We will also be able to resist the diabolical temptation of thinking that by our own efforts we can save the world and ourselves.
As a way of overcoming indifference and our pretensions to self-sufficiency, I would invite everyone to live this Lent as an opportunity for engaging in what Benedict XVI called a formation of the heart (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 31). A merciful heart does not mean a weak heart. Anyone who wishes to be merciful must have a strong and steadfast heart, closed to the tempter but open to God. A heart which lets itself be pierced by the Spirit so as to bring love along the roads that lead to our brothers and sisters. And, ultimately, a poor heart, one which realizes its own poverty and gives itself freely for others.
During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters, let us all ask the Lord: “Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum”: Make our hearts like yours (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.
It is my prayerful hope that this Lent will prove spiritually fruitful for each believer and every ecclesial community. I ask all of you to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you.
From the Vatican, 4 October 2014
Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi
OF OUR HOLY
He became poor,
so that by his poverty you might
(cf. 2 Cor 8:9)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As Lent draws near, I would like to offer some helpful thoughts
on our path of conversion as individuals and as a community. These
insights are inspired by the words of Saint Paul: "For you know the
grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for
your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become
rich" (2 Cor 8:9). The Apostle was writing to the Christians
of Corinth to encourage them to be generous in helping the faithful
in Jerusalem who were in need. What do these words of Saint Paul
mean for us Christians today? What does this invitation to poverty,
a life of evangelical poverty, mean for us today?
1. Christ’s grace
First of all, it shows us how God
works. He does not reveal himself cloaked in worldly power and
wealth but rather in weakness and poverty: "though He was rich, yet
for your sake he became poor …". Christ, the eternal Son of God, one
with the Father in power and glory, chose to be poor; he came
amongst us and drew near to each of us; he set aside his glory and
emptied himself so that he could be like us in all things (cf. Phil 2:7; Heb 4:15). God’s becoming man is a great
mystery! But the reason for all this is his love, a love which is
grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not
hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved. Charity,
love, is sharing with the one we love in all things. Love makes us
similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates
distances. God did this with us. Indeed, Jesus "worked with human
hands, thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved
with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he truly became one of
us, like us in all things except sin." (Gaudium
et Spes, 22).
By making himself poor, Jesus did
not seek poverty for its own sake but, as Saint Paul says "that
by his poverty you might become rich". This is no mere play on
words or a catch phrase. Rather, it sums up God’s logic, the logic
of love, the logic of the incarnation and the cross. God did not
let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives
alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety.
Christ’s love is different! When Jesus stepped into the waters of
the Jordan and was baptized by John the Baptist, he did so not
because he was in need of repentance, or conversion; he did it to be among people who need forgiveness, among us sinners, and
to take upon himself the burden of our sins. In this way he chose
to comfort us, to save us, to free us from our misery. It is
striking that the Apostle states that we were set free, not by
Christ’s riches but by his poverty. Yet Saint Paul is well
aware of the "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8),
that he is "heir of all things" (Heb 1:2).
So what is this poverty by which Christ frees us and enriches us?
It is his way of loving us, his way of being our neighbour, just as
the Good Samaritan was neighbour to the man left half dead by the
side of the road (cf. Lk 10:25ff ). What gives us true
freedom, true salvation and true happiness is the compassion,
tenderness and solidarity of his love. Christ’s poverty which
enriches us is his taking flesh and bearing our weaknesses and sins
as an expression of God’s infinite mercy to us. Christ’s poverty is
the greatest treasure of all: Jesus’ wealth is that of his
boundless confidence in God the Father, his constant trust, his
desire always and only to do the Father’s will and give glory to
him. Jesus is rich in the same way as a child who feels loved and
who loves its parents, without doubting their love and tenderness
for an instant. Jesus’ wealth lies in his being the Son; his
unique relationship with the Father is the sovereign prerogative of
this Messiah who is poor. When Jesus asks us to take up his "yoke
which is easy", he asks us to be enriched by his "poverty which is
rich" and his "richness which is poor", to share his filial and
fraternal Spirit, to become sons and daughters in the Son, brothers
and sisters in the firstborn brother (cf. Rom 8:29).
It has been said that the only real regret lies in not being a
saint (L. Bloy); we could also say that there is only one real kind
of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters
2. Our witness
We might think that this "way" of poverty was Jesus’ way, whereas
we who come after him can save the world with the right kind of
human resources. This is not the case. In every time and place God
continues to save mankind and the world through the poverty of
Christ, who makes himself poor in the sacraments, in his word
and in his Church, which is a people of the poor. God’s wealth
passes not through our wealth, but invariably and exclusively
through our personal and communal poverty, enlivened by the Spirit
In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront
the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it
our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it. Destitution is not the same as poverty: destitution is poverty
without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types
of destitution: material, moral and spiritual. Material
destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects
those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack
basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the
opportunity to develop and grow culturally. In response to this
destitution, the Church offers her help, her diakonia, in
meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the
face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by
loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. Our efforts
are also directed to ending violations of human dignity,
discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the
cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols,
they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth.
Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality,
simplicity and sharing.
No less a concern is moral destitution, which consists in
slavery to vice and sin. How much pain is caused in families
because one of their members – often a young person - is in thrall
to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography! How many people no
longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future, how many
have lost hope! And how many are plunged into this destitution by
unjust social conditions, by unemployment, which takes away their
dignity as breadwinners, and by lack of equal access to education
and health care. In such cases, moral destitution can be considered
impending suicide. This type of destitution, which also causes
financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his
love. If we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us through
Christ, because we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed
for a fall. God alone can truly save and free us.
The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution:
wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the
liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible,
that God is greater than our sinfulness, that he freely loves us at
all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life. The
Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope!
It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news,
sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and
offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness. It
means following and imitating Jesus, who sought out the poor and
sinners as a shepherd lovingly seeks his lost sheep. In union with
Jesus, we can courageously open up new paths of evangelization and
Dear brothers and sisters, may this Lenten season
find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live
in material, moral and spiritual destitution the Gospel message of the merciful love
of God our Father, who is ready to embrace everyone in Christ. We
can do this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor
and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for
self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up
in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not
forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this
dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and
does not hurt.
May the Holy Spirit, through whom we are "as poor, yet making
many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything" (2
Cor 6:10), sustain us in our resolutions and increase our
concern and responsibility for human destitution, so that we can
become merciful and act with mercy. In expressing this hope, I
likewise pray that each individual member of the faithful and every
Church community will undertake a fruitful Lenten journey. I ask
all of you to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep
From the Vatican, 26 December 2013
Feast of Saint Stephen,
Deacon and First Martyr