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Lent 2018

Pope Francis's Message      
(Mt 24, 12) - in Arabic, Chinese (China)Chinese (Taiwan), English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish

"Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold"

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Passover of the Lord comes once again to us! Each year, to prepare us for it, the Providence of God offers us the time of Lent, “the sacramental sign of our conversion” [Collect, 1st Sunday of Lent], which announces and offers us the possibility of returning to the Lord with all our hearts and with all our lives.

Again this year, with this message, I wish to help the whole Church to live with joy and truth in this time of grace; and I do so by letting myself be inspired by an expression of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24, 12).

This phrase is part of the discourse concerning the end of time and set in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, precisely there where the Lord’s passion will begin. Responding to a question by the disciples, Jesus announces a great tribulation and describes the situation in which the community of believers could find themselves: facing sorrowful events, some false prophets will deceive many, so much so as to threaten to extinguish in their hearts the charity which is the center of the whole Gospel.

The false prophets

Let us listen to this passage and ask ourselves: what forms do the false prophets assume?

They are like “snake charmers”, that is they take advantage of human emotions so as to enslave people and take them where they want them. How many children of God are mesmerized by the flattery of a few moments' pleasure, which is exchanged for happiness! How many men and women live as if enchanted by the illusion of money, which in reality renders them slaves of profit or petty interests! How many people live thinking they are self-sufficient and fall prey to loneliness!

Other false prophets are those “charlatans” who offer simple and immediate solutions to sufferings, remedies that reveal themselves however to be completely ineffective: how many young people are offered the false remedy of drugs, of "use and throw-away" relationships, of easy but dishonest gains! How many others are ensnared in a completely virtual life, where relationships seem simpler and quicker, only then dramatically to reveal themselves as meaningless! These swindlers, who offer worthless things, by contrast take away that which is most precious such as dignity, freedom and the capacity to love. It is the deception of vanity, which leads us to make the figure of peacocks ... to then fall into ridicule; and one doesn't come back from ridicule. There is no wonder in this: the devil, who is “liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8, 44), has always presented evil as good and the false as true, so as to confuse the heart of man. Thus each of us is called to discern in our hearts and examine whether we are threatened by the lies of these false prophets. We must learn not to remain at the immediate, superficial level, but to recognize that which leaves within us a good and more lasting imprint, because it comes from God and is truly for our good.

A cold heart

Dante Alighieri, in his description of hell, imagines the devil seated on a throne of ice [Inferno XXXIV, 28-29]; he dwells in the coldness of suffocated love. Let us ask ourselves then: how does charity turn cold in us. What are the signs that warn us that love risks being extinguished in us?

That which extinguishes charity is above all the greed for money, “the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6, 10); it is followed by the rejection of God and thus the rejection of finding consolation in Him, preferring our desolation to the comfort of his Word and of the Sacraments [1].  All this transmutes into violence that turns against those who are considered a threat to our own “certainties”: the child not yet born, the sick elderly person, the passing guest, the stranger, but also the neighbour who does not correspond to our expectations.

Creation also becomes a silent witness to this cooling of charity: the earth is poisoned by waste thrown away out of carelessness or for self-interest; the seas, also polluted, must sadly engulf the remains of numerous shipwrecked victims of forced migration; the heavens - which in the design of God sing his glory - are furrowed by machines that rain down instruments of death.

Love also grows cold in our communities: in the apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium I sought to describe the most evident signs of this lack of love. They are: selfish sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to isolate oneself and to engage in endless fratricidal wars, the worldly mentality which induces one to deal only with that which is apparent, in such a way reducing missionary ardour [Evangelii Gaudium, 76-109].

What to do?

If we see within our intimate selves and around us the signs just described, here the Church, our mother and our teacher, offers us in this time of Lent, together with the sometimes bitter medicine of the truth, the sweet remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

By dedicating more time to prayer, we allow our hearts to discover the secret lies with which we deceive ourselves [cf BXVI, Spe Salvi, 33], in order finally to seek consolation in God. He is our Father and He wants life for us.

The exercise of almsgiving liberates us from greed and helps us to discover that the other is my brother: that which I have is never mine alone. How I would like for almsgiving to be turned for everyone into their own true lifestyle! How I would like for us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Apostles and to see in the possibility of sharing our goods with others a concrete witness of the communion that we live in the Church! In this regard I make my own the exhortation of Saint Paul, when he invited the Corinthians to make a collection for the community of Jerusalem: "It is an advantageous thing for you" (2 Cor 8, 10). This applies in a special way in Lent, during which many organisations are collecting money for Churches and populations in difficulty. Yet how I would like for us also in our daily relationships, in front of every brother who asks us for help, to think that here there is an appeal from divine Providence: each almsgiving is an occasion to take part in the Providence of God towards his children; and if He uses me today so as to help a brother, so tomorrow will He not also provide for my own necessities, He who does not let Himself be outdone in generosity [cf Pius XII, Fidei Donum, III]?

Lastly fasting takes away the force of our violence, it disarms us and constitutes an important occasion for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what all those who lack even the bare necessities and know the daily bits of hunger feel; on the other hand, it expresses the condition of our spirit, hungry for goodness and thirsty for life in God. Fasting wakes us up, it makes us more attentive to God and to our neighbour, it reawakens our will to obey God who, alone, satisfies our hunger.

I would like my voice to reach beyond the confines of the Catholic Church, so as to reach you all, men and women of good will, open to listening to God. If, like us, you are afflicted by the increase of iniquity in the world, if you are concerned about the coldness that paralyzes hearts and actions, if you see the sense of common humanity diminishing, unite with us to invoke God together, to fast together and together with us to give as much as we can to help our brothers and sisters!

The fire of Easter

Above all I invite the members of the Church to undertake with zeal the pathway of Lent, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If at times charity seems to have been extinguished in so many hearts, it is not so in the heart of God! He always gives us new occasions so that we can begin to love again.

One propitious occasion will be again this year the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which invites us to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the context of Eucharistic adoration. In 2018 it will take place on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th March, inspired by the words of Psalm 130, “With you is forgiveness” (Ps 130, 4). In each diocese, at least one church will remain open for 24 consecutive hours, offering the possibility of prayer of adoration and of sacramental Confession.

During the Easter Vigil we will relive the evocative rite of the lighting of the paschal candle: drawn from the “new fire”, the light will, little by little, drive out the darkness and light up the liturgical assembly. “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and spirits” [Roman Missal, Easter Vigil, Lucernarium], so that we may all relive the experience of the disciples of Emmaus: to listen to the word of the Lord and to nourish ourselves with the eucharistic Bread will enable our hearts to return to burning with faith, hope and charity.

I bless you from my heart and I pray for you. Do not forget to pray for me.

From the Vatican, 1 November 2017
Solemnity of All Saints


Francis

 

[1] “It is curious, but many times we are afraid of consolation, of being consoled. Rather, we feel more secure in sadness and desolation. Do you know why? Because in sadness we feel almost as protagonists. Instead in consolation it is the Holy Spirit who is the protagonist!” - Angelus, 7 December 2014.