Pope Francis on Lent - Part 1

For Lent this year, Pope Francis looked at a line from the Gospel of Matthew: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (24:12). In Part 1 of his reflection, the Holy Father’s examines the root of the problem. In Part 2 (next week) Pope Francis answers the question “What can we do against such forces?”

These words of Christ, recounted in the Gospel of Mathew, were spoken in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, where the Lord’s passion would begin. Jesus foretells a great tribulation and a situation in which the community might find itself: amid great trials, false prophets would lead people astray and the love that is the core of the Gospel would grow cold in the hearts of many.

Who are these “false prophets?” Some are “snake charmers,” who manipulate human emotions to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go. So many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness! Men and women live entranced by the dream of wealth, which makes them slaves to profit and petty interests! Many go through life believing that they are sufficient living by themselves, and end up entrapped by loneliness!

False prophets can also be “charlatans,” who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove useless. Young people are taken in by the panacea of drugs, of disposable relationships, of easy but dishonest gains! More are ensnared in “virtual” existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless! These swindlers peddle things that have no real value and rob people of all that is precious: dignity, freedom and the ability to love. They appeal to our vanity, our trust in appearances, but in the end they only make fools of us.

We should not be surprised. To confound the human heart, the devil - the “liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44) - has always presented evil as good, falsehood as truth. Thus, each of us is called to peer into our heart to see if we are falling prey to the lies of these false prophets. We must look closely and recognize what leaves a good and lasting mark on our hearts, because only that comes from God and is truly for our benefit.

In his description of hell, Dante Alighieri pictures the devil seated on a throne of ice, in frozen and loveless isolation. How charity can turn cold within us. What are the signs that indicate that our love is beginning to cool? More than anything else, what destroys charity is greed for money, “the root of all evil” (1 Tim 6:10). The rejection of God and his peace soon follows; we prefer desolation rather than the comfort found in his word and the sacraments. This leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own “certainties:” the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbor who does not live up to our expectations.

Creation itself becomes a silent witness to this cooling of charity. Consider the impact on our ecology. The earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or for self-interest. The seas, themselves polluted, engulf the remains of countless shipwrecked victims of forced migration. The heavens, which in God’s plan, were created to sing his praises, are rent by engines raining down implements of death.

Love can also grow cold in our own communities. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I sought to describe the most evident signs of this lack of love: selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal. What are we to do? … (See continuation next week)


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