Following the tradition of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has issued a Lenten message for this year. The Pope chose as his theme the words of St. Paul, "He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9). In his message, Pope Francis speaks of the poverty which Jesus took to Himself as something that we should meditate upon and imitate in our lives during this season of Lent. The Pope emphasizes poverty as something that is positive. Jesus did not seek poverty for its own sake but in order that we might become rich.
Pope Francis emphasizes that poverty is not the same as destitution. Destitution is poverty without faith, support and hope. He describes three types of destitution - material, moral and spiritual. These types of destitution are very present within our world and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only answer to them. Pope Francis emphasizes "that there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ."
The season of Lent offers us the opportunity to grow in poverty in the most positive sense. These forty days help us to dwell upon the emptying of Himself which Jesus freely chose in order that He might completely identify with us. Lent gives us the opportunity to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution by bearing witness to the merciful love of God revealed in the Person of Jesus Christ. During this season we take up some practice of self-denial through letting go of ourselves in some way in order to grow in the richness of Christ. This self-denial or penance can take the form of doing something positive such as taking more time for prayer, celebrating the Eucharist on a more frequent basis, looking after the particular needs of another person or working on a virtue we would like to cultivate more. The self-denial can also take the form of giving up something that we enjoy such as a particular food or recreation.
I would suggest that our Holy Father gave us a fitting practice for Lent in a recent talk he gave to engaged couples on Valentine's Day in St. Peter's Square. Most of these couples will be married within the next year and the Pope pointed out to them that three words are essential for the success of their marriages. The words are: please, thank you and sorry. The Pope has spoken on these words on other occasions and has emphasized their importance as basic attitudes in life. Please, thank you and sorry form the basis of a true poverty by which we can be ourselves and find the richness of Christ in our relationship to Him and each other. These words are good ones to practice during Lent in a concentrated way. They are a good recipe for Lent.
Please reminds us of the value and dignity of every human person and of the primary relationship that we have with God. When we say please to God or to another person we realize that we cannot impose ourselves upon them. The attitude of deference is one that helps us to recognize the dignity that we ourselves possess as made in the image of likeness of God. However, it also reminds us of God's loving attitude to us in bestowing life and all the gifts He has given to us. It reinforces in us that each person is made in the same image and likeness and that we have no superior position in God's eyes over another person. Please helps us to appreciate more the primacy of our relationship with God and the uniqueness of each and every person.
Thank you reminds us that we stand before God always in an attitude of gratitude. We do not deserve any of the gracious gifts which God has freely bestowed upon us and especially His love and mercy. However, accepting these gifts, as God wants us to, helps us to appreciate more His goodness and the personal relationship which He wants to have with each one of us. Unfortunately, so many times we can take God's gifts, especially those of other people, for granted and not appreciate what they are in our lives as well as the difference they make. Often, it is when they are no longer present to us that we better appreciate them. Thank you gives us the opportunity to engender a more joyful attitude in ourselves by always being open to what God has given to us. Gratitude was certainly an essential part of the life of Jesus which reflected His eternal gratitude to God, His Father, in the Trinity. The Eucharist means "giving thanks" and how wonderful a practice this is for the season of Lent.
Sorry is an essential part of any relationship and especially our relationship with God. Jesus became poor and even took our sins to Himself in order that we might become rich through His merciful forgiveness. Pope Francis has frequently emphasized the reality that we are all sinners and need to express our sinfulness before God. Jesus reminds us that He did not come to call the self-righteous but sinners. The Pharisees were unable to admit their sinfulness and deprived themselves of the joy which Christ brought to them through His poverty. We need to free ourselves by saying "I'm sorry" to God and to others. Lent offers us a special opportunity to make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which God unconditionally offers us forgiveness. Nothing makes God happier than to forgive us which is precisely why Christ became poor for us. In a recent Wednesday audience, the Pope, catechizing on the Sacrament of Reconciliation, expressed that "celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation means being wrapped in a warm embrace. It is the embrace of the infinite mercy of the Father."
As we continue on our Lenten journeys, may we imitate the poverty of Christ in emptying ourselves more in order that He might fill us more with His life and joy. This is why He came to us. May we also realize that the basic attitudes conveyed by please, thank you and sorry are a good recipe to follow in whatever practices we take up during this holy season.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
March 7, 2014