Lent — Part One

The Vatican released Pope Francis’ message for Lent this week, entitled,“Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:12). This pessimistic sounding quote from Our Lord might seem like an odd “jumping off point” to begin this season of prayer and penance, but the Holy Father’s goal is that our hearts not grow cold.

The pope wrote, “God in His providence offers us each year the season of Lent as a ‘Sacramental sign of our conversion’ [quoting from the Roman Missal]. Lent summons us, and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life.”

The pontiff said that he would like “to help the entire Church experience this time of grace anew, with joy and in truth. I will take my cue from the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: ‘Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold’ (24:12).”

Jesus said these words on the Mount of Olives, when discussing the end of time. “In reply to a question of the disciples, Jesus foretells a great tribulation and describes a situation in which the community of believers might well find itself: amid great trials, false prophets would lead people astray and the love that is the core of the Gospel would grow cold in the hearts of many.”

Pope Francis then discussed how these false prophets appear amongst us. The first example he gave were “snake charmers,” people “who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go. How many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness! How many men and women live entranced by the dream of wealth, which only makes them slaves to profit and petty interests! How many go through life believing that they are sufficient unto themselves, and end up entrapped by loneliness!”

Another type of false prophet the pope denounced were “charlatans,” people “who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless. How many young people are taken in by the panacea of drugs, of disposable relationships, of easy but dishonest gains! How many more are ensnared in a thoroughly ‘virtual’ existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless! These swindlers, in peddling things that have no real value, rob people of all that is most precious: dignity, freedom and the ability to love. They appeal to our vanity, our trust in appearances, but in the end they only make fools of us. Nor should we be surprised. In order to confound the human heart, the devil, who is ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (Jn 8:44), has always presented evil as good, falsehood as truth.”

In the face of these false prophets, whom we all encounter in our daily existence, the pope said that we’re each “called to peer into our heart to see if we are falling prey to [their] lies. We must learn to look closely, beneath the surface, and to recognize what leaves a good and lasting mark on our hearts, because it comes from God and is truly for our benefit.”

Pope Francis then discussed “hell frozen over.” “In his description of hell, Dante Alighieri pictures the devil seated on a throne of ice, in frozen and loveless isolation. We might well ask ourselves how it happens that charity can turn cold within us. What are the signs that indicate that our love is beginning to cool?”

The pontiff then answered that question. “More than anything else, what destroys charity is greed for money, ‘the root of all evil’ (1 Tim 6:10). The rejection of God and His peace soon follows; we prefer our own desolation rather than the comfort found in His Word and the Sacraments. All this leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own ‘certainties’: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbor who does not live up to our expectations.”

The certainties which the pope criticized are held by people on the left and the right. He offers us food for thought, as we fast from bodily food, so that we might be better able to share all that God has given us.

The pope then discussed how our sins have an effect out in the world. “Creation itself becomes a silent witness to this cooling of charity. The earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or for self-interest. The seas, themselves polluted, engulf the remains of countless shipwrecked victims of forced migration. The heavens, which in God’s plan, were created to sing His praises, are rent by engines raining down implements of death.”

Next the Holy Father described how this iciness affects the Church and our society: “Love can also grow cold in our own communities. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I sought to describe the most evident signs of this lack of love: selfishness and Spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal.”

Two weeks from now we will look at the pope’s discussion of the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving and our movement towards the fire of Easter (if you don’t want to wait, you can look it up HERE.

In the meantime, please also read over and put into practice Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha’s message for Lent, which you can find on the cover of this Anchor. He addresses the challenge of suffering in this life: “We cannot fully avoid suffering. No one is immune to the evils that surround us and no one is exempt from the suffering that befalls us.” He tells us that instead of trying to run away from it, we are to learn from Christ how to find meaning in it and make it part of our journey towards the Kingdom.

Claire McManus on page nine tells us, “If we are going to derive any benefit from our Lenten exercises we might want to make a slight adjustment to align them with what Jesus intended.” Otherwise, they are pointless. As Deacon Tom Palanza preached (see page 10, in the coverage of Father David Andrade’s funeral), “the only thing of any lasting consequence — is how well we chose to respond to God’s eternal call.”

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