Every year, as the Church prepares to begin Lent, the pope releases a letter to assist the faithful in having a holy and fruitful season. The Lenten message often conveys some area of spiritual or moral theology that is close to the heart of the pontiff and is something that he wants to stress in the life of the Church.

This year, Pope Francis’ message revolved around a verse from Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

From this verse, the pope develops four main themes: 1) The paschal mystery as the basis of conversion; 2) The urgency of conversion; 3) God’s passionate will to dialogue with his children; and, 4)  A richness to be shared, not kept for oneself.

Throughout these four topics, Pope Francis wants believers to understand God’s call to every man and woman to encounter him and live in a vibrant relationship with him. He points to the Paschal Mystery, namely, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection, of Jesus Christ as the means to enter into this relationship. Pope Francis develops this point and tells us that whoever accepts this Good News, “rejects the lie that our life is ours to do with as we will.”

The pope continues: “It is good to contemplate more deeply the paschal mystery through which God’s mercy has been bestowed upon us. Indeed, the experience of mercy is only possible in a ‘face to face’ relationship with the crucified and risen Lord ‘who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal 2:20), in a heartfelt dialogue between friends.”

Therefore, Lent provides the believer, and the person of goodwill, with a period of grace. The penitential season invites all people to hear the call of the Lord and to reevaluate their lives and to seek renewed answers to life’s questions and more generous ways of living in the midst of the human family. These efforts point the disciple, and the seeker, to the Lord’s victory over sin and death. They direct sincere hearts to the way of the Lord Jesus, which is the most excellent way of love.

The task of the listener, therefore, is to discern, recognize and accept the love and mercy offered by Jesus Christ. Pope Francis emphasizes this process and elaborates: “The more fully we are engaged with [God’s] word, the more we will experience the mercy he freely gives us.”

In accepting this way of love, the follower is then called to share it with others. The gifts of love and mercy are not given to anyone alone. They are given so that the recipients can become different (and better) people, and so become instruments of that very love and mercy to others.

As an extension of this point, the pope stresses the importance of alms, especially to the vulnerable and weak. He also mentions the care of the earth and the importance of careful stewardship towards its goods and resources.

Pope Francis writes: “Today too, there is a need to appeal to men and women of good will to share, by almsgiving, their goods with those most in need, as a means of personally participating in the building of a better world. Charitable giving makes us more human, whereas hoarding risks making us less human, imprisoned by our own selfishness.”

In these ways, the followers of the way of love will find true reconciliation with God and their neighbors.  And this is the message and hope of Pope Francis and his Lenten Message this year.

In the midst of growing tension, extreme division, and widespread disunity, the pope is echoing the core of the Good News. He is proclaiming peace, reconciliation, and community. Pope Francis is calling for a generosity of heart and an openness of spirit.

In reconciling ourselves to God, we find the higher path – the way of love – toward reconciliation with those around us, especially those we dislike, or who have hurt us, or who disagree with us. Division is replaced by unity and animosity is dispelled by compassion.

This is the pope’s message for Lent. It’s an invitation to us all. What will we do with it? Will Lent 2020 make a difference in our lives and in our world?

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