In the 2005 Christmas Card greetings Pope Benedict XVI quoted a saying of St. Augustine, “O man! Awake! For God loves you so much that He has become man”.
Lent is a time for awakening. When we are asleep we are detached from the reality. When we are awake we are conscious of the reality.
To renew and to reform is to bring us back to the original beauty and to make progress is the same as to find our root. And what is that original, fundamental, beautiful reality? It is that God loves me, God loves us.
The first Encyclical Letter of Pope Benedict brings us back to the root of all truth, “God is Love”. He has created all things. He has created man. He has created me, surely He loves me.
He loves his chosen people like a bridegroom inebriated in the love for his young bride. (see the book of Canticles) But God is God, He is not man. His love is not sensual or selfish. He has forgiven his unfaithful bride. To lavish his mercy on her, he has paid a price to his own justice.
The Father has given his Son (We can almost say that for the sake of man he has “betrayed” his only Son).
The Incarnate Son loves man till the end to the degree of sheer folly. Before his passion he has hidden his sacrifice in the Blessed Sacrament. He has hidden his sacrificed Body in the form of bread for us to eat and his blood in the form of wine so that his blood will flow in our vain.
During Lent the catechumen prepare for the Pascal Mystery in order to be able to plunge into this history of love. We who were baptized long ago, are we so used to this that we are no longer moved by this reality? Lent awakes us so that we become conscious anew of this and rouse up our sense of amazement and adoration. Let us find the footmark of love in every page of the Bible and let us fix our gaze on the Eucharist bread to contemplate the mystery of love.
If we are truly conscious of the greatness of God’s love then “Love your neighbour as yourself” would no longer be a commandment, it is a natural response. Jesus gives us an opportunity to return his love by loving his brothers and sisters, his friends and to love them with his own heart.
Prayer, mortification and charity is the inseparable trilogy of Lent. The Lenten Message of the Holy Father this year is taken from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 9, verse 36, “When Jesus saw the crowd he had compassion for them”. Jesus looked after his people. His gaze is filled with love. Today his people, just as the crowd then are in need of his love and mercy.
The Holy Father mentioned especially the children, adults and elderly who live in poverty, loneliness, hunger and violence. They feel helpless and hopeless.
Some may ask why the God of Mercy allows so many catastrophes, man-made and natural to happen? We who have faith, do not doubt God’s mercy in face of these catastrophes. The Cross is a mystery, but it is also the answer to all the questions.
Jesus did not answer questions but he came near to us and share in our suffering. The Gospels recorded his many miracles by which he show his love and power.
He healed the sick and fed the hungry. But he did not heal all the sick in the world. He said that we would always have the poor among us. He leaves us the opportunities to perform miracles of love. He wants us to have the same gaze as his when we look on our neighbours and to have the same compassion as the Good Samaritan.
There are too many people in the world who need the help of others. Unless every person, especially those who are in public office and those who hold economic power, are willing to put on the cloak of the Good Shepherd and nurture in them a mother’s heart, to care for all man, every man, it will not be possible to solve the many problems we face.
In this immense project of love that involves all men, the Christians can supply a unique motive and direction: to strive to ensure that the dignity of every person is recognized and the rights of every person is respected.
We cannot force our faith on others. But we have to remember that if we do not introduce Christ to the poor they will always remain miserable poor.
Wishing a fruitful Lent, both in Evangelization and in social concern.
Joseph ZEN, SDB
26 February 2006