Pope Francis washes the foot of a prison inmate during Holy Thursday Mass in 2013 (CNS)
In his 2016 Lenten message, Pope Francis called the faithful to place special emphasis on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy this Lent, taking into account the current Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“God’s mercy transforms human hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn,” the Pope wrote in the short document, released Tuesday by the Vatican.
The spiritual and corporal works of mercy, the pontiff said, “remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbours in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them.”
“On such things will we be judged,” he said.
The title of this year’s message was drawn from the Gospel of Matthew: “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,” and has the subtitle: “The works of mercy on the road of the Jubilee.”
In the message, signed the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4 2015, the Pope said those who are truly poor are the ones who believe themselves to be rich.
“This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars,” he said.
“The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow,” he said.
Pope Francis recounted the parable of the poor man Lazarus who would beg at the door of the rich man.
Lazarus represents Christ, the Pope said, and therefore “the possibility of conversion which God offers us and which we may well fail to see.”
This blindness “is often accompanied by the proud illusion of our own omnipotence,” he observed.
Such an illusion can take “social and political forms,” he explained, citing as examples the “totalitarian systems of the twentieth century.”
In modern times, this illusion is seen in “the ideologies of monopolizing thought and technoscience, which would make God irrelevant and reduce man to raw material to be exploited.”
The Pope went on to explain how the illusion can link back to the “idolatry of money,” leading to a lack of concern for the poor “on the part of wealthier individuals and societies.”
“They close their doors, refusing even to see the poor,” he said.
“For all of us, then, the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year is a favourable time to overcome our existential alienation by listening to God’s word and by practising the works of mercy.”
Pope Francis stressed that “the corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated.”
“By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need,” he said.
“This love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness and love that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches.”
The Pope warned against constantly refusing “to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor,” as such consistent refusal on the part on the part of the “proud, rich and powerful” leads to condemnation.
This year’s Lent will begin Feb 10 with Ash Wednesday, when the Church will send out “Missionaries of Mercy” – priests with the faculties to pardon sins in cases otherwise reserved for the Holy See – as part of the Jubilee Year, Catholic New Agency reported.
In the opening section of the message, Pope Francis centered his reflection on Mary as the image of the Church’s evangelization, “because she is evangelized.”
The Pope began by reiterating the call for mercy to be celebrated and experienced in a particular way this Lent, citing the Bull of Indiction for the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
“The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at first hand,” he said.
After receiving the “Good News” from the angel Gabriel, Mary proclaims the Magnificat in which she “prophetically sings of the mercy whereby God chose her,” the Pope recounts.
He describes Mary as the “perfect icon of the Church which evangelizes, for she was, and continues to be, evangelized by the Holy Spirit, who made her virginal womb fruitful.”
Pope Francis then reflected on the history of mercy as seen in the covenant between God and the people of Israel.
“God shows himself ever rich in mercy, ever ready to treat his people with deep tenderness and compassion, especially at those tragic moments when infidelity ruptures the bond of the covenant, which then needs to be ratified more firmly in justice and truth,” he said.
“Here is a true love story, in which God plays the role of the betrayed father and husband, while Israel plays the unfaithful child and bride.”
“This love story culminates in the incarnation of God’s Son,” who the Father has made “mercy incarnate,” the Pope said, citing the Jubilee Bull of Induction.
“As the Son of God, he is the Bridegroom who does everything to win over the love of his bride, to whom he is bound by an unconditional love which becomes visible in the eternal wedding feast.”
Pope Francis reflected how it is through mercy that God restores his relationship with the sinner.
“In Jesus crucified, God shows his desire to draw near to sinners, however far they may have strayed from him. In this way he hopes to soften the hardened heart of his Bride.”
Pope Francis concluded the message by calling on Mary’s intercession during the upcoming Season of Lent.