A Message for Lent

March 8, 2014 at 7:50am

Last Ash Wednesday, Christendom marked the beginning of the 40-day Lenten liturgical period of prayer and fasting.  On this day we reflected on the 40-day sojourn of our Lord Jesus Christ in the desert where He taught us how to combat Satan through humility, detachment from material things and full surrender to the will of the Father.  After the Ash Wednesday, Christians will now prepare to observe all religious rituals commemorating Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

But what is Lent in the context of contemporary times? What should we do to make this season meaningful? 

Pope Francis’ Lenten Message for 2014 will tell us what spiritual disposition to assume in order to draw the full richness that this season could bring. In his message, His Holiness exhorted the faithful to be poor in spirit for “God 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)

Surely God becoming man is a mystery. But, according to Pope Francis, “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.” 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”.

In this day and age when man is obsessed with too many material things, Pope Francis tells us that imitating Christ’s poverty is what enriches us. Christ’s poverty is understood in the context of the way “he loves 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). He adds that “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 . . .”

The Pope differentiates three types of poverty: material, moral and spiritual. 

First, he explained: Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ. 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.

Second, moral destitution consists in slavery to vice and sin. He explained that is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love. Thus, if we think we don’t need God who reaches out to us though 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.

Finally, spiritual destitution happens when we turn away from God and reject his love.  This type of destitution, the Pope says, is remedied by the Gospel; by proclaiming 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.

Poverty takes a myriad of forms. But only the poverty of Christ can give us salvation. One may be awash with material goods, and yet he can be destitute if he does not make Christ’s brand of poverty become an essential part of his life.

For this Lenten season to be truly spiritually edifying, we must bear witness to the poor around us; those suffering from material, moral and spiritual destitution and impart in them the hope and richness of the Gospel message of the merciful and loving God our Father.  Christ’s spirit of poverty if made to dwell in each one of us can make us truly rich in the eyes of God.