- In his Message for Lent 2008, Pope Benedict XVI focused on the nature of Christian charity as an “instrument of authentic conversion and reconciliation”:
. . . If, in accomplishing a good deed, we do not have as our goal God’s glory and the real well being of our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the Gospel vision. In today’s world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the cross, gave His entire self for us. How could we not thank God for the many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world, fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one’s neighbor in difficulty? There is little use in giving one’s personal goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory: for this reason, the one, who knows that God “sees in secret” and in secret will reward, does not seek human recognition for works of mercy.
In inviting us to consider almsgiving with a more profound gaze that transcends the purely material dimension, Scripture teaches us that there is more joy in giving than in receiving (cf. Acts 20,35). When we do things out of love, we express the truth of our being; indeed, we have been created not for ourselves but for God and our brothers and sisters (cf. 2 Cor 5,15). Every time when, for love of God, we share our goods with our neighbor in need, we discover that the fullness of life comes from love and all is returned to us as a blessing in the form of peace, inner satisfaction and joy. Our Father in heaven rewards our almsgiving with His joy. What is more: Saint Peter includes among the spiritual fruits of almsgiving the forgiveness of sins: “Charity,” he writes, “covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pt 4,8). As the Lenten liturgy frequently repeats, God offers to us sinners the possibility of being forgiven. The fact of sharing with the poor what we possess disposes us to receive such a gift. In this moment, my thought turns to those who realize the weight of the evil they have committed and, precisely for this reason, feel far from God, fearful and almost incapable of turning to Him. By drawing close to others through almsgiving, we draw close to God; it can become an instrument for authentic conversion and reconciliation with Him and our brothers.
- From “On the Lenten Journey” – Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for Ash Wednesday:
Since our commitments and our worries keep us living the same routine, putting us at risk of forgetting just how extraordinary this adventure is that Christ has involved us in, we need to begin again each day with the demanding itinerary of evangelical life, retreating within ourselves through moments of reflection that regenerate our spirit. With the ancient ritual of the imposition of the ashes, the Church introduces Lent as a spiritual retreat that lasts 40 days.
In this way we enter into the atmosphere of Lent, which helps us rediscover the gift of faith received at baptism and which encourages us to approach the sacrament of reconciliation, placing our commitment to conversion under the symbol of divine mercy. . . .
Upon placing ashes on the faithful, the celebrant says: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” (cf. Genesis 3:19), or he repeats Jesus’ exhortation: “Convert and believe in the Gospel” (cf. Mark 1:15). Both practices recall the truth of human existence: We are limited creatures, sinners constantly in need of penitence and conversion. How important it is in our day and age to listen and welcome such a call! When proclaiming his independence from God, the contemporary man becomes his own slave and often finds himself inconsolably alone. The invitation to convert is therefore a spur to return to the arms of God, caring and merciful Father, to trust him, to entrust oneself to him like adopted children, regenerated by his love.
Teaching with wisdom the Church reiterates that conversion is above all a grace, a gift that opens the heart to God’s infinite love. Through his grace he anticipates our desire for conversion and supports our efforts toward full adherence to his saving will. To convert means to let Jesus win our hearts (cf. Philippians 3:12) and “to return” with him to the Father.
Conversion therefore means to give oneself to the teachings of Jesus and to obediently follow in his footprints. . . .
The Lenten walk to conversion, which we undertake today with the whole Church, becomes the propitious occasion, “the favorable moment” (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2) to yield ourselves once again to the hands of God and to practice what Jesus continuously repeats to us: “If someone wants to follow me he must renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34), and thus take the path of love and true happiness.
- Lent: Why the Christian Must Deny Himself – a two-part series by by Brother Austin G. Murphy, O.S.B. (IgnatiusInsight.com).
- Fr. Philip Neri’s “Ten Commandments for a Good Lenten Confession” – sound, practical advice on taking your soul to the cleaners.
- National Catholic Register‘s Guide for Lent – What the Church says, what to give up, and what to do; from EWTN: Daily Audio Lenten Reflections via podcast from Fr. Benedict Groeschel.
This being the Lenten season I’m intending on restraining myself, at least as much as able, from blogging — I will keep this post as an “anchor” of sorts, updating it occasionally should I encounter additional Lenten items of interest and personal benefit. Pray that this be a fruitful season of penitence and spiritual renewal for myself and for all of you / my readers. God bless].