Lent will soon be upon us. We are blessed with a period of 40 days to prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter. We do this by looking deeply within ourselves and in a particular way, letting ourselves be turned more to God's presence in our lives each day. As we prepare to take up certain practices of prayer, penance or almsgiving, we do so that they may help us meet the Lord and grow more in knowing His love. Lent is indeed, as the liturgy proclaims, a joyful time.
As we prepare to enter into this season, there are four aspects of God that can enable us to know Him more fully. They are: God is young; God is old; God is now; and God is love. The fundamental aspect of God's life is that He is love. This is the very definition of God as articulated by St. John: "God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God, and God in him” (1Jn 4:16). Nothing can be understood about God except in the context of His being love. However, recently Pope Francis has referred to God as being “young”, “old” and “now.” The approach of Lent gives us a good opportunity to reflect upon God as He refers to us as young, old, now and always in love.
A new book has been recently published entitled, God is Young. It is a lengthy interview with Pope Francis conducted by Thomas Leonicini, an Italian journalist, on young people and the call of Pope Francis to build a bridge between generations. In this book, Pope Francis reflects that "God is the Eternal One who has no time." This is a very important insight in so far as God, in Himself, does not possess time, and time only pertains to God in so far as He has created us and entered into our history. The Incarnation is the culmination of God's entering history through which He brought time into Himself.
In this context, Pope Francis proclaims that "God is young." He reasons, "In the book of the Apocalypse (Revelation 21:5) there is this phrase: 'The one who sits on the throne said, behold I make all things new.' God therefore is He who always renews because He is always new." Pope Francis goes on to expound how the distinctive attributes of the young are also God's because He "loves innovation; because He astonishes and loves astonishment; because He dreams and wants us to dream; because He is strong and enthusiastic; because He forms relationships and asks us to do the same: He is social."
At the same time that Pope Francis proclaims that "God is young," he also proclaims God to be old, but not in the same words. At the very beginning of this new book, Pope Francis explains that "youth" and "old age" do not exist, but "young people" and "old people” do. Since God, who has no time, has entered into our history in Christ, He has taken all of humanity to Himself and continues to do so in the communion of the Eucharist. Hence the Pope states, "We must be joyful and proud of being old, just as we are normally proud of being young. Old age is a privilege; it means having experiences, being able to know and recognize our faults and merits; it means having acquired the understanding necessary to accept the past and, above all, to have learned from the past." It is therefore just as plausible for Pope Francis to describe God as old as it is to describe him as young.
In the homily which Pope Francis gave to the young people most recently gathered in Panama for World Youth Day, he spoke of the "now of God." The Pope’s reflections are very much in keeping with his proclamation that "God is young" since time does not exist in God. Nevertheless, God has entered into time and has taken being young, as well as being old, into Himself through us. Therefore, God meets us in time in the present moment, not the past and not in the future. The present moment is where we live and it is there that God truly comes to us. We can appreciate the past and look forward to the future, but it is only now that we have and where God is present. What Pope Francis expressed to the young people in Panama is expressed to all of us, no matter our age or state in life: "You, dear young people, are not the future. We like to say, 'you are the future.' No, you are the present. You are not the future of God, you young people are the now of God."
As we prepare to enter Lent, we reflect that God is young and God is old because God has no time but is now. Most of all we reflect that God is love and because of this He meets us and touches us at every moment of our lives. During Lent, we will reflect how God has entered into our history and has taken all that we are to Himself, even to the point of death, and brings us into the fullness of time in life through His Resurrection. God does this because He is love for all eternity whether He chose to create us or not. We exist in His love now and only in that find our meaning and joy. As Pope Francis proclaimed in Panama, "God is real because love is real; God is concrete because love is concrete in Him."
As we look forward to the coming days of lent, let us realize, in the words of Pope Francis in Panama, that: "For Jesus, there is no 'meantime,' but only a merciful love that wants to enter into and win over our hearts. He wants to be our treasure, because Jesus is not a 'meantime,' an interval in life or a passing fad; He is generous love that invites us to entrust ourselves. ... The Lord and His mission are not a 'meantime' in our life, something temporary, ... they are our life today, our life of journeying ahead!" Whether we are young or old, God speaks to us now in the fullness of His love. Let this be the basis by which we decide what practices we will take up for Lent.
A blessed Lent to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
February 22, 2019