Every year, Christians are enjoined to pray, fast and give alms during Lent. This year, Pope Francis in his Lenten message encourages us to also offer a smiles and kind words to people feeling alone or frightened because of the coronavirus pandemic.
He wrote: “Love rejoices in seeing others grow. Hence it suffers when others are anguished, lonely, sick, homeless, despised or in need,”
The Vatican released the message on 12 February. It highlights Lent as “a time for renewing faith, hope and love” through the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving — and by going to confession. These Lenten practices, the Pope emphasised, not only promote individual conversion, but also should have an impact on others.
“By receiving forgiveness in the sacrament that lies at the heart of our process of conversion, we in turn can spread forgiveness to others,” he said. “Having received forgiveness ourselves, we can offer it through our willingness to enter into attentive dialogue with others and to give comfort to those experiencing sorrow and pain.”
Quoting From Fratelli Tutti
The Pope’s message referred to his encyclical Fratelli Tutti several times. He prayed that during Lent Catholics would be “increasingly concerned with ‘speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn’” — a quote from the encyclical.
Quoting the document further, he said, “In order to give hope to others, it is sometimes enough simply to be kind, to be ‘willing to set everything else aside in order to show interest, to give the gift of a smile, to speak a word of encouragement, to listen amid general indifference.’”
The Pope went on to write that Jesus preached the Lenten practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer and they continue to help believers experience and express conversion.
“The path of poverty and self-denial” through fasting, “concern and loving care for the poor” through almsgiving and “childlike dialogue with the Father” through prayer, he said, “make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity.”
Pope Francis said that fasting is “a form of self-denial” to rediscover one’s total dependence on God and to open one’s heart to the poor.
“Fasting involves being freed from all that weighs us down — like consumerism or an excess of information, whether true or false — in order to open the doors of our hearts to the one who comes to us, poor in all things, yet full of grace and truth: the son of God our saviour.”
Cardinal Peter Turkson
Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, presenting the message at a news conference, also insisted on the importance of “fasting and all forms of abstinence,” for example, by giving up “time watching TV so we can go to church, pray or say a rosary. It is only through self-denial that we discipline ourselves to be able to take the gaze off ourselves and to recognise the other, reckon with his needs and thus create access to benefits and goods for people,” ensuring respect for their dignity and rights.
Mgr Bruno-Marie Duffe
Mgr Bruno-Marie Duffe, secretary of the dicastery, said that at a time of “anxiety, doubt and sometimes even despair” because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lent is a time for Christians “to walk the way with Christ toward a new life and a new world, toward a new trust in God and in the future.”
(Photo: © Mazur/cbcew.org.uk)