by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
This coming Wednesday, March 2nd we begin Lent 2022. Despite its starkness this yearly custom in the Christian world is necessary and offers great benefits.
As always, Pope Francis has a unique outlook on this season. In his 2014 Lenten letter, he set out a vision that is worth revisiting today. Instead of repeating the usual self-referential Lenten actions, “prayer, fasting, almsgiving”, the Argentinian pope in customary Latin American Catholic-style begins with social analysis as the key to our penitential observances.
The Holy Father takes as his theme the words of St. Paul’s letter to Corinthians:
“For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesu Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty, you might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9)
Francis asks what these words mean for us Christians today. He says, “Christ’s poverty was not for its own sake; 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 did it to be among us sinners and to take on himself the burden of our sins.”
He then reflects on three destitutions [poverties] which afflict humanity today and which cry out to Christians as we live Lent.
“Material Destitution – 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… In response the Church [the People of God] offers help in binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity.”
The Pope goes on: “We might think that this ‘way’ of poverty was Jesus’ way, whereas we who come after him can save the world with the right kind of human resources.” [But] “God’s wealth passes not through our wealth, but invariably and exclusively through our personal and communal poverty, enlivened by the Spirit of Christ. 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.”
Moral Destitution – slavery to vice and sin. “How much pain is caused in families because one of their members…is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or pornography… How many are plunged into this destitution by unjust social conditions, by unemployment … and by lack of equal access to education and health care.”
Spiritual destitution – “The Gospel is the real antidote to spiritual destitution… We are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that God is greater than our sinfulness… The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope … consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters.”
Pope Francis concludes his reflection with this call to the Church:
“May this Lenten Season find the whole Church ready to bear witness to all those who live in material, moral and spiritual destitution… the merciful love of God our Father… We can do this to the extent that we imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty…”
This is a different and more challenging framework for us as we begin Lent. We find in Francis’ Gospel-based reflections both a compelling rationale for this time of repentance and also concrete (demanding) practices for living it fully.
[Speaking of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Pope Francis has called on all peoples, believers and unbelievers alike, to pray and fast for peace on Ash Wednesday. He said: “Jesus taught us that the diabolical senselessness of violence is answered with God’s weapons, with prayer and fasting.”]
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.