Lent is a time of renewal for the whole
Church, for each communities and every believer. Above all it is a “time of
grace” (2 Cor 6:2). 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
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
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,
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
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
This is the response to the psalm we sing on Ash Wednesday and it sets the
tone for us as we begin the important period of Lent. This time is given to us
by the Church to help us reflect with prayer, on our journey of faith and on our
relationship with God and with one another. These forty days are days of prayer,
fasting and almsgiving or outreach to the poor. These forty days are special for
us, as we prepare our hearts for the joy of Easter.
As believers, we enter this time of penance and prayer with humility. We
know that it is a unique time of prayer, and in the busyness of our hectic
lives, we seek to find some time, a little extra time, to spend with the Lord.
Lent is a time for change or conversion. Not only do we decorate our churches in
purple and cease to proclaim alleluia, but we know that within our hearts we
seek a deeper link to the Lord. We desire to know Him more intimately and to
discover Him, especially in the difficult moments of our lives. Our prayer, our
Masses and our sacrifices help us to link ourselves to the cross of Jesus which
we share as his followers.
Pope Francis has asked us to seek a change within our hearts for a
renewal of spirit and a deeper conversion to love. The Pope asks us to reflect
on our relationship with our neighbour, especially our neighbour in need. He
reminds us that the temptation to indifference towards our neighbour is always
present in our world. He notes that as our brothers and sisters suffer, we as a
Church also suffer with them. We are to unite our prayers with the saints
in heaven, and as a community, to go out and to be engaged in the life of
society, to be missionaries to the poor and needy in particular.
We are given many opportunities during Lent to increase our prayer life,
to seek a more simpler lifestyle, and to reach out to our bothers and sisters in
need. We do this in a concrete way through our support of Development of Peace
which reaches out to counties in our world to help others rebuild their lives.
Your continued support to this cause is encouraged again this year.
As humble sinners, who at times have seen worldly issues more important
than our spiritual growth, we use this holy time to see a conversion in our
hearts, and to grow more in the image of Jesus. May our prayers, our sacrifices
and our generous outreach to others, help us to better understand the Paschal
Mystery in which we believe and live, and may this time help us to see ourselves
as “ambassadors of Jesus” to a world that needs the message of Jesus so badly
Let us journey together during this holy time, in order that we might
share in the glory of new life in Christ on the great feast of Easter.