The season of Lent is a graced time in which we prepare to celebrate the Paschal mystery of the fullness of life bestowed upon us in the Resurrection of Christ. This forty day period, which affords us an opportunity to grow in our knowledge of ourselves and of the Lord's presence within our lives, is already moving by quickly. In his message for Lent this year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, reflects that false prophets are manipulating human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would rather not go. Such false messages are causing a great deal of loneliness, unhappiness and disruption within our world. Entitling his message on the words of our Lord, Because of the Increase of Iniquity, the Love of Many Will Grow Cold (Mt 24:12), the Pope encourages us to take up practices of almsgiving, fasting and prayer during the season of Lent in order better to hear God's voice over that of the false prophets.
Pope Francis' Lenten Message closely follows another message he gave on the occasion of World Communications Day, January 24, just a few weeks before the beginning of Lent. This message, The Truth Will Set You Free (Jn 8:32). Fake News and Journalism for Peace, is a very powerful reflection upon the phenomenon of "fake news" which has been the object of great discussion and debate. The Pope defines fake news as "the spreading of disinformation online or in the traditional media. It has to do with false information based on non-existent or distorted data meant to deceive and manipulate the reader. Spreading fake news can serve to advocate specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests."
The Pope stresses that the spreading of fake news is nothing new. In fact, he says that fake news was the strategy used by the devil in the Book of Genesis to tempt Adam and Eve into the first sin. This is very similar to the tactics of the false prophets, referred to by the Pope in his Lenten Message, who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would rather not go. The devil tempts Adam and Eve by falsely presenting the message of God to them and inciting within themselves a sense for power which was far from God's plan for them. God created Adam and Eve in His image and likeness which meant they were to find their joy in the power of love. The devil falsely presents God's plan to them by indicating they would find their joy in the power of authority. Basically, the devil tempts them successfully to reject not only to be like God but to reject God completely and place themselves in His person. This was the original sin.
It is interesting to see how the fake news of the devil to Adam and Eve repeats itself in his fake news to Jesus during His forty day retreat in the desert before the beginning of His public ministry. We just reflected upon this in the Gospel of St. Mark on the First Sunday of Lent. As Jesus spends time in the desert to prepare for His ministry, the devil places before Him the temptation to reject His mission with the same temptation of the power of authority He placed before Adam and Eve. As the Lord sees the Cross which is to come to Him from those He came to serve and save and He begins to experience the rejection of that Cross, the devil tempts Him not to love but to dominate. Since Jesus was God Himself, He could show the power of His authority to those who would reject Him by ultimately destroying them. The Lord refuses to give into this temptation of fake news from the deceiver in order that He might show the power of His love for each and every one of us as He ultimately accepts the Cross.
Pope Francis reminds us that, "The most radical antidote to the virus of falsehood is purification by the truth." It is Jesus Christ who is the truth (Jn14:6) and it is this truth which will always set us free (Jn 8:32). The truth of Jesus Christ involves our whole life and carries with it the sense of support, solidarity and trust which only God can give. Our world today so much needs the truth which, in so many ways, it denies by claiming there is no absolute truth. Our world today seems to believe that we are the ones who constitute truth and the truth can change at our direction. This concept is presented to us so many times through fake news. This misrepresentation of truth is certainly presented to us in a dialogue between Jesus and Pontius Pilate: Jesus said," For this I was born and for this I came in to the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.' Pilate said to him 'What is truth' "(Jn 18:37 - 38)?
A very powerful point in Pope Francis’ Communications Message pertains to fake news within ourselves. This is a very important point of reflection for the season of Lent as we continue to look deep within ourselves. Many times it is hard to face the failures and sins that lie within us and we tend not to want to face them. Many times we see the faults of others in an exaggerated manner because they are our faults. We need to take a close look at ourselves and not be afraid to face the dark side of ourselves in order to bring it to the Lord so that He may heal it. The more we do this, the more peace we find and the more understanding we are of others. In this regard, the Pope refers to the words of his favorite author, Fydor Dostoyevsky in his famous novel, The Brothers Karamazov, "People who lie to themselves and listen to their own lie come to such a pass that they cannot distinguish the truth within them, or around them, and so lose all respect for themselves and for others."
It is truly Jesus Christ who gives us the truth and it is His truth that sets us free. As we continue on our journey during Lent, may we look deep within ourselves in order that we might come to know the Lord in the fullness of His truth. With so many distractions, false prophets and fake news around us, it is the Good News of Jesus Christ that always prevails.
Pope Francis concludes his Message for World Communications Day with a prayer which draws inspiration from that of St. Francis. It is a most fitting one during the season of Lent.
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Help us to recognize the evil latent in a communication that does not build communion.
Help us to remove the venom from our judgments.
Help us to speak about others as our brothers and sisters.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practice listening;
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony;
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awake trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
February 23, 2018