In his message for Lent 2021, Pope Francis says that Lent is a time for believing, for welcoming God into our lives and allowing him to “make his dwelling” among us (cf. Jn 14:23). The Holy Father reminds the faithful that the Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity, thereby sharing in Jesus' mission of the salvation of the world.
During this season of conversion, Pope Francis invites the faithful to draw from the “living water” of hope, and receive with open hearts the love of God.
'At the Easter vigil, we will renew our baptismal promises and experience rebirth as new men and women by the working of the Holy Spirit,' says Pope Francis. 'This Lenten journey, like the entire pilgrimage of the Christian life, is even now illumined by the light of the resurrection, which inspires the thoughts, attitudes and decisions of the followers of Christ.'
Fasting, prayer and almsgiving, the Holy Father says, is what enables our conversion. The path of poverty and self-denial (fasting), concern and loving care for the poor (almsgiving), and childlike dialogue with the Father (prayer) make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity.
Pope Francis says that accepting and living the truth revealed in Christ means opening our hearts to God’s word, which the Church passes on from generation to generation. He emphasises that this truth is not an abstract concept for an intelligent few but a message available to all those whose hearts are 'open to the grandeur of God, who loves us even before we are aware of it.'
Christ is this truth, the Pope writes, and fasting is a form of self-denial, which helps those who undertake it to rediscover God’s gift and that because we are created in his image and likeness, we can find our fulfilment in him.
'In embracing the experience of poverty,' he says, 'those who fast make themselves poor with the poor and accumulate the treasure of a love both received and shared.' It is in this way, Pope Francis says, that we can free ourselves from all that weighs us down, including the lure of consumerism or an excess of information, 'so as to open the doors of our hearts to the One who comes to us, poor in all things, yet “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14): the Son of God our Saviour.'
Pope Francis recalls the meeting between the Samaritan woman and Jesus at the well, and how this changed the course of the Samaritan woman's life forever. 'The Samaritan woman at the well, whom Jesus asks for a drink, does not understand what he means when he says that he can offer her “living water” (Jn 4:10). Naturally, she thinks that he is referring to material water, but Jesus is speaking of the Holy Spirit whom he will give in abundance through the paschal mystery, bestowing a hope that does not disappoint.'
'Hoping with him and because of him means believing that history does not end with our mistakes, our violence and injustice, or the sin that crucifies Love. It means receiving from his open heart the Father’s forgiveness.'
That this season of Lent coincides with the world's ongoing battle against the coronavirus is not lost on the Holy Father, who acknowledges that hope can seem lost during times of trouble and uncertainty.
Yet Lent is precisely the season of hope, he says, for it is a time when 'we turn back to God who patiently continues to care for his creation which we have often mistreated (cf. Laudato Si’, 32-33; 43-44). Saint Paul urges us to place our hope in reconciliation: “Be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others.'
Having received forgiveness ourselves, Pope Francis says, enables us to offer it through our willingness to enter into attentive dialogue with others and 'to give comfort to those experiencing sorrow and pain.' God’s forgiveness, when offered through our words and actions, also enables us to experience "an Easter of fraternity".
'In order to give hope to others, it is sometimes enough simply to be kind, to be “willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference” (Fratelli Tutti, n.224).
Pope Francis also says that this invitation to experience Lent in hope entails growing in the realisation that, in Jesus Christ, we are witnesses of new times, in which God is “making all things new” (cf. Rev 21:1-6).
Following in the footsteps of Christ, in concern and compassion for all, is the highest expression of our faith and hope, Pope Francis says.
'Love is a 'leap of the heart', which brings us out of ourselves and create bonds of sharing and communion.'
In this time of Lent and especially during the pandemic, the faithful are encouraged to speak words of reassurance to those feeling abandoned and isolated and to help others to realise that God loves them as sons and daughters. As Pope Francis wrote in the encyclical Fratelli Tutti, it is only love that will enable humanity to rise above this time of increased isolation and build a civilisation of love where effective paths of development are available for everyone. (n.183)
'A small amount, if given with love,' Pope Francis says, 'never ends, but becomes a source of life and happiness. ... Such is the case too with our almsgiving, whether small or large, when offered with joy and simplicity.'
The Holy Father concludes by encouraging the faithful to view every moment as an opportunity for believing, hoping and loving.
'The call to experience Lent as a journey of conversion, prayer and sharing of our goods, helps us – as communities and as individuals – to revive the faith that comes from the living Christ, the hope inspired by the breath of the Holy Spirit and the love flowing from the merciful heart of the Father.'
Carol Glatz (CNS)13 February 2024
Carol Glatz and Justin McLennan (CNS) with Melbourne Catholic12 February 2024