By Jejomar C. Binay
Former Vice President
To mark the beginning of Lent, His Holiness, Pope Francis, released his Lenten message on Ash Wednesday last February, with a line quoted from the Gospel of Matthew: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold.” (Mt 24:12).
Pope Francis spoke of a world of false prophets and cold hearts, as he urged Catholics to counteract this “great tribulation” through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting.
These false prophets can be the “snake charmers” who “manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go,” he said. They can also be the “charlatans” who offer “easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless.”
False prophets, according to His Holiness, lead the faithful astray, fooling them into the trap of momentary pleasure which leads to slavery to profit, disposable relationships, and dishonest gains.
Asks our Holy Father: “How many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness! “How many men and women live entranced by the dream of wealth, which only makes them slaves to profit and petty interests!”
His Holiness adds: “These swindlers, in peddling things that have no real value, rob people of all that is most 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.”
Each of us, reminds the Holy Father, “is called to peer into our heart to see if we are falling prey to the lies of these false prophets. We must learn to look closely, beneath the surface, and to recognize what leaves a good and lasting mark on our hearts, because it comes from God and is truly for our benefit.”
The Holy Father describes the manifestations 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.”
Pope Francis then asks us to reflect on the seeming demise of charity, of hearts grown cold by the “greed for money.”
“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 our own desolation rather than the comfort found in his word and the sacraments. All 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.”
Even the earth is not immune to this violence, as it becomes “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.”
How do we respond as Christians? One is by prayer.
“By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers,” says His Holiness.
Fasting, on the other hand, “revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”
According to the Holy Father, “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.”
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. How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us!,” says the Holy Father.
Pope Francis exhorts us to follow the example of the Apostles “and see in the sharing of our possessions a tangible witness of the communion that is ours in the Church!”
“This is all the more fitting during the Lenten season, when many groups take up collections to assist Churches and peoples in need. Yet I would also hope that, even in our daily encounters with those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God himself. When we give alms, we share in God’s providential care for each of his children. If through me God helps someone today, will he not tomorrow provide for my own needs? For no one is more generous than God.”
A Blessed Holy Week to all.