This isn’t theologically correct, but I do feel a bit like Lent began Monday this year for Catholics, with the humility of the Holy Father demonstrated so boldly in his shocking, loving announcement.
In his Lenten message, the Holy Father reflects:
Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love… Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light – and in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working.” All this helps us to understand that the principal distinguishing mark of Christians is precisely “love grounded in and shaped by faith.”
Our lives are meant to be lived in communion with the Passion and Death and Resurrection of our Lord. This love is what grounds us. This love only emanates from us if we know it.
It is the friendship with Christ George Weigel talks about in his monumental, perhaps Providentially timed Evangelical Catholicism.
Along these lines, the Holy Father gives us more specific Lenten guidance:
When we make room for the love of God, then we become like him, sharing in his own charity. If we open ourselves to his love, we allow him to live in us and to bring us to love with him, in him and like him; only then does our faith become truly “active through love”; only then does he abide in us.
Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it; charity is “walking” in the truth. Through faith we enter into friendship with the Lord, through charity this friendship is lived and cultivated. Faith causes us to embrace the commandment of our Lord and Master; charity gives us the happiness of putting it into practice. In faith we are begotten as children of God; charity causes us to persevere concretely in our divine sonship, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Faith enables us to recognize the gifts that the good and generous God has entrusted to us; charity makes them fruitful.
He is clear:
The Christian life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love.
And he cautions:
Sometimes we tend, in fact, to reduce the term “charity” to solidarity or simply humanitarian aid. It is important, however, to remember that the greatest work of charity is evangelization, which is the “ministry of the word”. There is no action more beneficial – and therefore more charitable – towards one’s neighbour than to break the bread of the word of God, to share with him the Good News of the Gospel, to introduce him to a relationship with God: evangelization is the highest and the most integral promotion of the human person.
everything proceeds from Love and tends towards Love. God’s gratuitous love is made known to us through the proclamation of the Gospel. If we welcome it with faith, we receive the first and indispensable contact with the Divine, capable of making us “fall in love with Love”, and then we dwell within this Love, we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others.
There is more. The story of this man’s papacy is a love story. Of God. Of His Church. For we are loved by a merciful God. And a holiest Holy Father, who, is doing the almost unthinkable — stepping aside from what, from a temporal point of view, is a most powerful post — out of love, united with Love.
The outpouring of love at the Wednesday audience this morning was overwhelming. From the pope to the audience. From the audience to the pope. I’m always moved by how much people love the pope. But this was such a gloriously loving scene. There will be more of that in the coming weeks, until he retreats to his greatest act of leadership yet, to dedicate himself to total prayer, and for us.
He gives us so much. Let this Lenten message help guide our days as we begin this holiest of season, knowing we are loved, surrendering to Christ’s all-merciful, all powerful, everlasting love, a love that makes all things possible.
There may be hearts tomorrow, but at the heart of the matter is the cross of Jesus Christ, through whom we know the greatest love, that liberates and raises us up eternally. May we never let forget His love. May we lives in communion with the Love that is the peace that emanates from the Holy Father today — he is the portrait of the peace that the world craves, the deepest desire of our hearts. And keep his beautiful final Lenten message in mind these next 40 days. There is much more to it than what I’ve highlighted.
There may be pink hearts on the wall, but the ultimate Valentine, the ultimate presence of love in our midst, is the Eucharist. How can there not be joy this Ash Wednesday when there is the Mass! It may not be a Holy Day of Obligation … but how can you resist? Penance! Holy Eucharist! What gifts we have.