By Atty. Joey D. Lina
During the Lenten season, Pope Francis said, Christians are called upon to practice three elements for spiritual growth as laid out in the Gospel – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
“By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and to find the consolation God offers,” the Pontiff said in his 2018 Lenten message.
Amid troubles and suffering, refuge can be found in prayer. “In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could lead to a hardness of heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of the boundless love of God,” he explained.
On fasting, the Pope said that “it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure.” He explained that “fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbor. It revives our desire to obey God who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”
But we are not to merely follow the rules for Lenten fasting and abstinence, Pope Francis said, for that might lead only to self-satisfaction. “Fasting makes sense if it really chips away at our security and, as a consequence, benefits someone else, if it helps us cultivate the style of the good Samaritan who bent down to his brother in need and took care of him.”
The giving of alms should help free the faithful “from the obsession of possession, from the fear of losing what they have, and from the sadness of not sharing their well-being with others,” the Pope explained. “Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone.”
In doing what are necessary for spiritual growth, Pope Francis said that the Lord wants a sincere approach and not that of hypocrites who “disguise themselves as good people” and think of themselves as “better than others.”
Lent is an opportune time for deep reflection and to seek forgiveness for sins. Pope Francis explained “God’s mercy transforms human hearts, enables us to become merciful in turn, and inspires each of us to love others through concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them [because] on such things will we be judged.”
He expressed hope that Christians will “reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy.”
The key to salvation lies on the two greatest commandments – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).
To truly love God and our neighbor as ourselves, we need to utilize our time, talent, and treasure to serve others especially as we perform the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
As I’ve said before, to love is to serve. Love without service is nothing. Loving and serving go hand in hand. Otherwise, love is meaningless. And the best way to serve is through the corporal works of mercy – To feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, bury the dead.
And there are also the spiritual works of mercy – To admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries, pray for the living and the dead.
Pope Francis said Christians are called to confront and help those facing three types of destitution — material, moral, and spiritual. He described material destitution as that experienced by people “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 culturally.”
We must also be concerned for those suffering from moral destitution – slavery to vices like drugs, alcohol, and gambling. The Holy Father explained that moral destitution “causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject His love.”
The real antidote to spiritual destitution is the Gospel, Pope Francis said. “Wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope!”
Helping others conquer spiritual destitution can be uplifting, Pope Francis assures. “It is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news, sharing the treasure entrusted to us, consoling broken hearts and offering hope to our brothers and sisters experiencing darkness.It means following and imitating Jesus, who sought out the poor and sinners as a shepherd lovingly seeks his lost sheep. In union with Jesus, we can courageously open up new paths of evangelization.”
May we all experience God’s love and find deeper meaning in our Christian faith as we strive for holiness this Holy Week and beyond!