|Posted on April 2, 2012 at 3:10 AM|
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS
FOR LENT 2012
“Let us be concerned for eachother,
to stir a response in love and good works” (Heb 10:24)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The Lenten season offers us once again an opportunity to reflect upon thevery heart of Christian life: charity. This is a favorable time to renew ourjourney of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of theword of God and the sacraments. This journey is one marked by prayer andsharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter.
This year I would like to propose a few thoughts in the light of a briefbiblical passage drawn from the Letter to the Hebrews:“ Let us beconcerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works”. Thesewords are part of a passage in which the sacred author exhorts us to trust inJesus Christ as the High Priest who has won us forgiveness and opened up apathway to God. Embracing Christ bears fruit in a life structured by the threetheological virtues: it means approaching the Lord “sincere in heart and filledwith faith” (v. 22), keeping firm “in the hope we profess” (v.23) and ever mindful of living a life of “love and good works” (v. 24)together with our brothers and sisters. The author states that to sustain thislife shaped by the Gospel it is important to participate in the liturgy andcommunity prayer, mindful of the eschatological goal of full communion in God(v. 25). Here I would like to reflect on verse 24, which offers a succinct,valuable and ever timely teaching on the three aspects of Christian life:concern for others, reciprocity and personal holiness.
1. “Let us be concerned for each other”: responsibility towards ourbrothers and sisters.
This first aspect is an invitation to be “concerned”: the Greek verb usedhere is katanoein, which means to scrutinize, to be attentive, to observecarefully and take stock of something. We come across this word in the Gospelwhen Jesus invites the disciples to “think of” the ravens that, withoutstriving, are at the centre of the solicitous and caring Divine Providence (cf.Lk 12:24), and to “observe” the plank in our own eye before looking at thesplinter in that of our brother (cf. Lk 6:41). In another verse ofthe Letter to the Hebrews, we find the encouragement to “turn your mindsto Jesus” (3:1), the Apostle and High Priest of our faith. So the verb whichintroduces our exhortation tells us to look at others, first of all at Jesus,to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent tothe fate of our brothers and sisters. All too often, however, our attitude isjust the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness andmasked as a respect for “privacy”. Today too, the Lord’s voice summons all ofus to be concerned for one another. Even today God asks us to be “guardians” ofour brothers and sisters (Gen 4:9), to establish relationshipsbased on mutual consideration and attentiveness to the well-being,theintegral well-being of others. The great commandment of love for oneanother demands that we acknowledge our responsibility towards those who, likeourselves, are creatures and children of God. Being brothers and sisters inhumanity and, in many cases, also in the faith, should help us to recognize inothers a true alter ego, infinitely loved by the Lord. If we cultivatethis way of seeing others as our brothers and sisters, solidarity, justice,mercy and compassion will naturally well up in our hearts. The Servant ofGod PopePaul VI stated that the world today is suffering above all from a lackof brotherhood: “Human society is sorely ill. The cause is not so much thedepletion of natural resources, nor their monopolistic control by a privilegedfew; it is rather the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals andnations” (PopulorumProgressio, 66).
Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every pointof view: physical, moral and spiritual. Contemporary culture seems to have lostthe sense of good and evil, yet there is a real need to reaffirm that good doesexist and will prevail, because God is “generous and acts generously” (Ps119:68). The good is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhoodand communion. Responsibility towards others thus means desiring and workingfor the good of others, in the hope that they too will become receptive to goodnessand its demands. Concern for others means being aware of their needs. SacredScripture warns us of the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sortof “spiritual anesthesia” which numbs us to the suffering of others. TheEvangelist Luke relates two of Jesus’ parables by way of example. In theparable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite “pass by”, indifferentto the presence of the man stripped and beaten by the robbers (cf. Lk10:30-32). In that of Dives and Lazarus, the rich man is heedless of thepoverty of Lazarus, who is starving to death at his very door (cf. Lk 16:19).Both parables show examples of the opposite of “being concerned”, of lookingupon others with love and compassion. What hinders this humane and loving gazetowards our brothers and sisters? Often it is the possession of material richesand a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our owninterests and problems above all else. We should never be incapable of “showingmercy” towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up inour affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor. Humblenessof heart and the personal experience of suffering can awaken within us a senseof compassion and empathy. “The upright understands the cause of the weak, thewicked has not the wit to understand it” (Prov 29:7). We can then understandthe beatitude of “those who mourn” (Mt 5:5), those who in effect are capable oflooking beyond themselves and feeling compassion for the suffering of others.Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can become anopportunity for salvation and blessedness.
“Being concerned for each other” also entails being concerned for theirspiritual well-being. Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christianlife, which I believe has been quite forgotten:fraternal correction in view ofeternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea ofcharity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almostcompletely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers andsisters. This was not the case in the early Church or in those communities thatare truly mature in faith, those which are concerned not only for the physicalhealth of their brothers and sisters, but also for their spiritual health andultimate destiny. The Scriptures tell us: “Rebuke the wise and he will love youfor it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he willgain yet more” (Prov 9:8ff). Christ himself commands us to admonish a brotherwho is committing a sin (cf. Mt 18:15). The verb used to express fraternalcorrection – elenchein – is the same used to indicate the prophetic mission ofChristians to speak out against a generation indulging in evil (cf. Eph 5:11).The Church’s tradition has included “admonishing sinners” among the spiritualworks of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity.We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christianswho, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to theprevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters againstways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do notfollow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is nevermotivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved bylove and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. Asthe Apostle Paul says: “If one of you is caught doing something wrong, those ofyou who are spiritual should set that person right in a spirit of gentleness;and watch yourselves that you are not put to the test in the same way” (Gal6:1). In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importanceof fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness.Scripture tells us that even “the upright falls seven times” (Prov 24:16); allof us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). It is a great service, then, tohelp others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the wholetruth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord’sways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, whichknows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God hasdone and continues to do with each of us.
2. “Being concerned for each other”: the gift of reciprocity.
This “custody” of others is in contrast to a mentality that, by reducinglife exclusively to its earthly dimension, fails to see it in an eschatologicalperspective and accepts any moral choice in the name of personal freedom. Asociety like ours can become blind to physical sufferings and to the spiritualand moral demands of life. This must not be the case in the Christiancommunity! The Apostle Paul encourages us to seek “the ways which lead to peaceand the ways in which we can support one another” (Rom 14:19) for ourneighbour’s good, “so that we support one another” (15:2), seeking not personalgain but rather “the advantage of everybody else, so that they may be saved” (1Cor 10:33). This mutual correction and encouragement in a spirit of humilityand charity must be part of the life of the Christian community.
The Lord’s disciples, united with him through the Eucharist, live in afellowship that binds them one to another as members of a single body. Thismeans that the other is part of me, and that his or her life, his or hersalvation, concern my own life and salvation. Here we touch upon a profoundaspect of communion: our existence is related to that of others, for better orfor worse. Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension. Thisreciprocity is seen in the Church, the mystical body of Christ: the communityconstantly does penance and asks for the forgiveness of the sins of itsmembers, but also unfailingly rejoices in the examples of virtue and charitypresent in her midst. As Saint Paul says: “Each part should be equallyconcerned for all the others” (1 Cor 12:25), for we all form one body. Acts ofcharity towards our brothers and sisters – as expressed by almsgiving, apractice which, together with prayer and fasting, is typical of Lent – isrooted in this common belonging. Christians can also express their membershipin the one body which is the Church through concrete concern for the poorest ofthe poor. Concern for one another likewise means acknowledging the good thatthe Lord is doing in others and giving thanks for the wonders of grace thatAlmighty God in his goodness continuously accomplishes in his children. WhenChristians perceive the Holy Spirit at work in others, they cannot but rejoiceand give glory to the heavenly Father (cf. Mt 5:16).
3. “To stir a response in love and good works”: walking together inholiness.
These words of the Letter to the Hebrews (10:24) urge us toreflect on the universal call to holiness, the continuing journey of thespiritual life as we aspire to the greater spiritual gifts and to an ever moresublime and fruitful charity (cf. 1 Cor 12:31-13:13). Being concerned for oneanother should spur us to an increasingly effective love which, “like the lightof dawn, its brightness growing to the fullness of day” (Prov 4:18), makes uslive each day as an anticipation of the eternal day awaiting us in God. Thetime granted us in this life is precious for discerning and performing goodworks in the love of God. In this way the Church herself continuously growstowards the full maturity of Christ (cf. Eph 4:13). Our exhortation toencourage one another to attain the fullness of love and good works is situatedin this dynamic prospect of growth.
Sadly, there is always the temptation to become lukewarm, to quench theSpirit, to refuse to invest the talents we have received, for our own good andfor the good of others (cf. Mt 25:25ff.). All of us have received spiritual ormaterial riches meant to be used for the fulfilment of God’s plan, for the goodof the Church and for our personal salvation (cf. Lk 12:21b; 1 Tim 6:18). Thespiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advanceinevitably regress. Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation,today as timely as ever, to aim for the “high standard of ordinary Christianliving” (NovoMillennio Ineunte, 31). The wisdom of the Church in recognizingand proclaiming certain outstanding Christians as Blessed and as Saints is alsomeant to inspire others to imitate their virtues. Saint Paul exhorts us to “anticipate oneanother in showing honour” (Rom 12:10).
In a world which demands of Christians a renewed witness of love andfidelity to the Lord, may all of us feel the urgent need to anticipate oneanother in charity, service and good works (cf. Heb 6:10). This appeal isparticularly pressing in this holy season of preparation for Easter. As I offermy prayerful good wishes for a blessed and fruitful Lenten period, I entrustall of you to the intercession of the Mary Ever Virgin and cordially impart myApostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican,3 November 2011
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI