Pope Francis celebrates a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in this November file photo. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
By Bishop Peter A. Rosazza
Posted: 02/21/14, 6:47 PM EST | Updated: 1 week, 3 days ago
This year Lent begins an on Ash Wednesday, March 5. To help Catholics live our Lent with greater dedication to the Lord Jesus, Pope Francis, as did his predecessors, addressed a Lenten message to the Catholic world.
He chose as his theme the words of Saint Paul to the Corinthians: “Though rich, Jesus became poor so that by his poverty you might become rich.” Paul is writing to the wealthier churches of the Greek-speaking world to encourage them to share their financial resources with the poor Church of Jerusalem. The pope asks what these words and invitation to gospel poverty mean for us today?
First, God doesn’t reveal himself cloaked in worldly power and wealth. Though equal to the Father, Jesus humbled himself so that he could be like us in all things but sin. In this Jesus shows his extraordinary generosity and love for us. He lived among us to offer forgiveness and to take upon himself the burden of our sins to free us from our misery. He truly is rich in mercy, a mercy he extends to us, not from afar, but by being in our midst as one who serves. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus offers us the privilege to become “brothers and sisters in the firstborn brother.” (Romans 8:20)
What is the only regret we should have? According to the French writer, Léon Bloy, it is in not being a saint! The pope says, “We could also say that there is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and sisters and brothers of Jesus.”
Paradoxically, “in every time and place, the Father continues to save humankind through the poverty of Christ who makes himself poor in the sacraments, in his word and in his church, which is a people of the poor.”
Consequently, in imitation of Jesus, “we are called to confront the poverty of our sisters and brothers, to touch it, make it our own and take practical steps to alleviate it.”
He then speaks of three types of destitution. Material destitution affects people living in conditions opposed to human dignity, lacking basic rights such as access to food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally. The church offers help through such organizations as Catholic Charities and our own U.S. Catholic Relief Services and many other works of charity.
Beyond meeting basic needs we must struggle to end violations of human dignity, discrimination and all types of abuse in the world. He states, “When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.”
Next there is moral destitution consisting of slavery to vice such as alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography. Then there are people who see no meaning in life or suffer from unjust social conditions including unemployment that takes away their dignity as breadwinners, as well as access to health care.
This is linked to the spiritual destitution of those who turn away from God and reject God’s love. The pope says that God alone can truly save and free us from our inclinations to evil, as those in AA recognize.
What is the antidote to spiritual destitution? The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus which we Christians are called to proclaim, that God forgives sins and gives us the strength to overcome our compulsions to sin because God loves us and calls us to share eternal life with Jesus. This demands a decision to follow Jesus no matter where he leads us. And following Jesus during Lent must include self-denial. He asks, “What can we give up in order to help others by our own poverty, and our willingness to do with less so that we might share with others whose basic needs are not being met.”
Lastly Pope Francis prays that all members of the Church might undertake a fruitful Lenten journey and asks for our prayers.
The Most Rev. Peter A. Rosazza is auxiliary bishop emeritus, archdiocese of Hartford.