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February 22, 2023, marks the beginning of Lent with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. To celebrate this important liturgical season in preparation for Easter, here are 10 tips drawn from Pope Francis’ Lent messages across the years.
1Remember that Christ’s poverty enriches us
“Christ’s poverty which enriches us is his taking flesh and bearing our weaknesses and sins as an expression of God’s infinite mercy to us,” explained Pope Francis in 2014, in his first Lenten message.
The Pontiff reminded that “God’s becoming man is a great mystery,” but it was done out of “a love which is grace, generosity, […] a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved.”
In fact he warned against “three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual,” while underlining that “destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope.” He called Christians to “confront” the destitution of “our brothers and sisters” and “take practical steps to alleviate it.”
2Fight the “globalization of indifference” individually and collectively
In his 2015 Lenten message Pope Francis made a strong appeal against the “globalization of indifference” towards others. “The love of God breaks through that fatal withdrawal into ourselves which is indifference.”
“Indifference to our neighbor and to God […] represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience,” the Pontiff said.
He called for the places “where the Church is present” to “become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference.”
He also encouraged each individual to engage in a “formation of the heart,” and thus to develop a “firm,” “merciful,” “attentive,” and “generous” heart.
His advice is to repeat the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus : “Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum, make our hearts like yours.”
3God’s “boundless” mercy can help us be merciful in turn
Pope Francis’ 2016 Lenten message centered on the theme of mercy, in line with the Extraordinary Jubilee he had called on the same topic. He reminded that “the mystery of divine mercy is revealed in the history of the covenant between God and his people,” as he is always ready to treat them with “deep tenderness and compassion.”
This “boundless mercy” is then incarnated in Christ “the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride.”
“God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn,” the Pope explained.
“In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited; in the spiritual works of mercy – counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer – we touch more directly our own sinfulness.”
4The importance of spending time with the Word of God
“Lent is a favorable season for deepening our spiritual life through […] fasting, prayer and almsgiving. At the basis of everything is the word of God, which during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply,” Pope Francis said during his 2017 Lenten message.
Following his own advice, he focused his text on the parable of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus (cf. Lk 16:19-31). He explained that “Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift” and that Lent is a favorable season “for opening the doors to all those in need.” On the other hand the rich man gives us a “dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity, and pride.”
“At the root of all [the rich man’s] ills was the failure to heed God’s word. […] The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God,” the Pope said.
5Beware of iniquity and fight it with prayer, almsgiving, and fasting
For his 2018 Lenten message Pope Francis was inspired by this verse from the Gospel of Matthew : “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (24:12). In fact he called us to beware of “false prophets,” which can come in the form of “snake charmers” or “charlatans.” He also asked us to try to avoid that our hearts and love become “cold,” not allowing us to serve others.
To fight these temptations, Pope Francis proposes “the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting,” which helps “take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm.”
6Remember the redemption of creation
“This mystery of salvation, already at work in us during our earthly lives, is a dynamic process that also embraces history and all of creation,” Pope Francis said in his 2019 Lenten message. He underlined how “all those who enjoy the grace of Jesus’ paschal mystery may experience its fulfilment in the redemption of the human body” and that we “benefit creation by cooperating in its redemption.”
He thus warned against “the destructive power of sin” and called that the “desert of creation” be “once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin.”
7Lent is a period for conversion
In his 2020 Lenten message the Argentine Pontiff reminded that, despite coming around again every year, Lent is always a “favorable time for our conversion,” which “should never be taken for granted.”
Jesus’ Easter “is not a past event; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is ever present, enabling us to see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer,” he said.
Prayer is thus essential during Lent as it is “a heartfelt dialogue between friends” and”an expression of our need to respond to God’s love which always precedes and sustains us.”
The Pontiff also assures that God is always available to truly dialogue with us and not partake in “empty chatter.”
8Renewing our faith, hope and love as we prepare for Easter
“During this season of conversion, let us renew our faith, draw from the “living water” of hope, and receive with open hearts the love of God, who makes us brothers and sisters in Christ,” Pope Francis said during his 2021 Lenten message, as the world was still grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic.
He associated these three cues for this solemn season with the acts of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Fasting helps to find our fulfillment in God and thus “accepting and living the truth revealed in Christ” and bringing us closer to our faith.
Hope “is given to us as inspiration and interior light” through recollection and silent prayer. Lastly, “to experience Lent with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned.”
9“Let us not grow tired of doing good”
Pope Francis was inspired by the following verses from Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians for his 2022 Lenten message: “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity (kairós), let us do good to all” (6:9-10).
“Lent invites us to conversion, to a change in mindset, so that life’s truth and beauty may be found not so much in possessing as in giving, not so much in accumulating as in sowing and sharing goodness,” the Argentine Pontiff explained.
He in fact cited three ways to sow goodness: “not grow tired of praying,” “not grow tired of uprooting evil from our lives,” and “not grow tired of doing good in active charity towards our neighbors.”
10Lent as a moment of ascension and transfiguration
“During Lent we are invited to ascend “a high mountain” in the company of Jesus and to live a particular experience of spiritual discipline – ascesis – as God’s holy people,” Pope Francis said in his 2023 Lenten message. He encouraged us to “listen to Jesus” by attending the liturgy and studying the Bible.
The Pontiff also underlined the similarities between the Synod on Synodality and Lent. The Synod is a process on the reflection on the future of the Church, which the Pope began in 2021 and that should last until 2024.
In his message Pope Francis explained how the “Lenten journey of penance and the journey of the Synod alike have as their goal a transfiguration, both personal and ecclesial.”