In his first message for the Lenten season, Pope Francis focuses on the poverty of Christ in becoming man, emphasizing that it is our duty to give the same humble witness in our care for the poor.
Announced in a Feb. 4 press conference, the Pope’s Lenten message was read by Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum,” the council that presents the pontifical message each year.
Taking his theme from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, the Pope reflects on the apostle’s words “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”
Reflecting on grace which Christ gives, the Pope emphasizes that the meaning of these words for Christians today shows “us how God works,” and that “God’s becoming man is a great mystery!”
What Paul says in his letter “is no mere play on words or a catch phrase,” Pope Francis states, but “rather, it sums up God’s logic, the logic of love, the logic of the incarnation and the cross.”
“God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety. Christ’s love is different!” he affirms.
“Christ’s poverty is the greatest treasure of all,” the pontiff explains, noting that “Jesus’ wealth is that of his boundless confidence in God the Father, his constant trust, his desire always and only to do the Father’s will and give glory to him.”
Recalling the words of author Leon Bloy when he says that the only real poverty is not to be a Saint, the Pope also emphasizes that “there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.”
Drawing attention to the witness we give as Christians, the Pope explains that although we often believe that we can “save the world with the right kind of human resources,” this is “not the case.”
“In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.”
Reflecting on the difference between “poverty” and “destitution,” the Pope observes that “There are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual.”
“Material destitution is what is normally called poverty,” he notes, and it “affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally.”
What the Church does as a response is “meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity,” because “in the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face,” explains the pontiff.
“Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution.”
“When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth,” he notes, and thus “our consciences…need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.”
Turning his focus to moral destitution, the Pope highlights that it “consists in slavery to vice and sin,” and that many families suffer because “one of their members – often a young person - is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography!”
Lamenting that many “no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future” and have “lost hope” due to unemployment, unjust social conditions, or unequal access to education and healthcare, the pontiff stated that such cases of moral destitution “can be considered impending suicide.”
“This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love,” he says, because when we “believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall.”
An antidote for this spiritual destitution can be found in the Gospel, the Pope reflects, emphasizing that “wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible.”
“The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope,” the pontiff notes, expressing that “it is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news.”
Encouraging the faithful to “imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty,” Pope Francis explains that “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial,” and that “we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty.”
“Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”
He then voices a prayer to the Holy Spirit, asking that he help us in our resolutions to have a greater concern and responsibility for humanity “so that we can become merciful and act with mercy.”
“In expressing this hope, I likewise pray that each individual member of the faithful and every Church community will undertake a fruitful Lenten journey,” the Pope states, adding that “I ask all of you to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you safe.”