Dear Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Lenten Message of the Holy Father is a call to overcome indifference which requires that we ‘make our hearts firm’ (James 5:8). God’s love does not allow him to be indifferent to us; we cannot remain indifferent to the sufferings of others. The selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global dimensions that we as Christians need to confront. The Holy Father offers us three texts to reflect on:
1Cor 12:26 : if one member suffers, all suffer together : The Church is the Body of Christ. In Christ, we cannot be indifferent to the other.
Gen 4:9 : Where is your brother : We are part of one body and must reach out to the weakest, poorest. The Holy Father reminds us of the ‘communion of saints’ whereby we are united with the saints in Heaven in their prayer. The other expectation of the Holy Father in his own words: “How greatly I desire that all those places where the Church is present, especially parishes and communities, may become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference!”
James 5:8 : Make your hearts firm! : Pope Francis focuses on individual Catholics whom he encourages first of all to pray : “Pray in communion with the Church on earth and in heaven. Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices united in prayer!” The Holy Father then ask all to join the 24 Hours for the Lord. This is an initiative to be observed throughout the Church on 13-14 March. This proposal of the Holy Father is to be taken up wherever there are a good number of Faithful, viz in major town parishes and the larger missions of our Archdiocese. For some it may be convenient to end the 24 Hours for the Lord on Sunday 15th morning. Please take the liberty of scheduling the 24 hours as may be convenient for your parish, mission, community.
Besides prayer, the Faithful are encouraged to help the needy by acts of charity. Lent is a favourable time to show this concern for others even through the charitable organizations of the Church. (Remember the Lenten campaign of Caritas-India). The third consideration for the individual Catholic is to take the suffering of others as a call to conversion. “Their need reminds me of the uncertainty of my own life and my dependence on God and my brothers and sisters. If we humbly implore God’s grace and accept our own limitations, we will trust in the infinite possibilities which God’s love holds out to us.”
The Pope concludes his Lenten Message with the prayer : Lord, make my heart like yours! “In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.”
As an ‘appendix’ to the Lenten Message, I present to you some thoughts the Holy Father gave in a Video Conference to participants attending a seminar in Milan. The theme was : Nourish the Planet, Energy for Life. St. Pope John Paul II had spoken of the ‘paradox of abundance’ where there is food for all but not everyone can eat amid a culture of waste. Our present Pope suggests three practical approaches to respond to this paradoxical situation :
1) Move from urgencies to priorities : resolve the structural causes of poverty and say ‘no’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality.
2) Be witnesses of charity : concern about the social, economic, and political relationship that needs to take account of the dignity of the human person and the common good. “Please be courageous and do not be afraid in shaping economic policy to be challenged by a greater meaning in life so you may be enabled truly to serve the common good and may you have the strength to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.”
3) Be guardians, not masters of the Earth : The Holy Father recalls words of an old farmer: ‘God forgives always, Men forgive sometimes; but the Earth never forgives!’ Pollution cannot renew the earth! With regard to the earth’s goods we are called not to lose sight of the origin or purpose of these goods, so as to bring about a world of fairness and solidarity. The earth is not an inheritance we have received from our parents, but a loan that our children give to us, in order that we safeguard it and make it flourish and return it to them. Safeguard the earth not only with goodwill but also with tenderness.
For me the third point is where we can act especially with the lands we have : use them conscientiously not only for economic benefits but to preserve the ecology. Plant trees. Avoid plastics and other pollutants! Conserve energy and water!
May your Lenten observance be meaningful and fruitful. United in prayer,
Devotedly in Christ Jesus,
Archbishop of Gandhinagar