Pope Francis has called on the faithful to focus on three key elements in their Lenten journey toward this year’s Easter as preached by Jesus (cf. Matthew 6:1-18). They are fasting, prayer and almsgiving, said the Holy Father in his Message for Lent 2021.

He urged the faithful to remember “the One who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8), adding that “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.”

In elaborating, he said: “The path of poverty and self-denial (fasting), concern and loving care for the poor (almsgiving), and childlike dialogue with the Father (prayer) make it possible for us to live lives of sincere faith, living hope and effective charity.”

Fasting, he explained, is experienced as a form of self-denial, and helps those who undertake it in simplicity of heart to rediscover God’s gift and to recognise that, created in His image and likeness, we find our fulfilment in Him. “In embracing the experience of poverty, those who fast make themselves poor with the poor and accumulate the treasure of a love both received and shared. In this way, fasting helps us to love God and our neighbour.” As Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches, fasting is a movement outward that focuses our attention on others and considers them as one with ourselves (cf. Fratelli tutti, 93).

Lent, he pointed out, is a time for believing, for welcoming God into our lives and allowing him to “make his dwelling” among us (cf. John 14:23). 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” (John 1:14): the Son of God, our Saviour.

Next, he said, during Lent, may we be increasingly concerned with “speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation and encouragement, and not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn” (Fratelli tutti, 223). 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” (ibid, 224).

Thus, through recollection and silent prayer, hope is given to us as inspiration and interior light, illuminating the challenges and choices we face in our mission. Hence, he added, there is the need to pray (cf. Matthew 6:6) and, in secret, to encounter the Father of tender love. To experience Lent in hope entails growing in the realisation that, in Jesus Christ, we are witnesses of new times, in which God is “making all things new” (cf. Revelation 21:1-6).

“It means receiving the hope of Christ, who gave His life on the cross and was raised by God on the third day, and always being ‘prepared to make a defence to anyone who calls [us] to account for the hope that is in [us]’ (1 Peter 3:15),” said the Holy Father.

On almsgiving, he said that to experience Lent with love means caring for those who suffer or feel abandoned and fearful because of the Covid-19 pandemic. “In these days of deep uncertainty about the future, let us keep in mind the Lord’s word to His Servant, ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you’ (Isaiah 43:1).

In our charity, we could speak words of reassurance and help others to realise that God loves them as sons and daughters. “Only a gaze transformed by charity can enable the dignity of others to be recognised and, as a consequence, the poor to be acknowledged and valued in their dignity, respected in their identity and culture, and thus truly integrated into society” (Fratelli tutti, 187).

Pope Francis ended his Message by reminding us that “every moment of our lives is a time for believing, hoping and loving,” and invoked the intercession of Our Lady and the blessing of the Risen Lord on our Lenten journey of conversion towards the light of Easter.

– MICHELLE TAN

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