Pope St John Paul II's Message
(1 Cor 13:5) - in English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese & Spanish
"Love is not resentful"
1. "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem" (Mk 10:33). With these words, the Lord invites the disciples to journey with him on the path that leads from Galilee to the place where he will complete his redemptive mission. This journey to Jerusalem, which the Evangelists present as the crowning moment of the earthly journey of Jesus, is the model for the Christian who is committed to following the Master on the way of the Cross. Christ also invites the men and women of today to "go up to Jerusalem". He does so with special force in Lent, which is a favourable time to convert and restore full communion with him by sharing intimately in the mystery of his death and resurrection.
Lent, therefore, represents for believers the favourable opportunity for a profound re-examination of life. In today’s world, there is much generous witness to the Gospel, but there are also baptized people who, when faced with the demanding call to "go up to Jerusalem", remain deaf and resistant, even at times openly rebellious. There are situations where people’s experience of prayer is rather superficial, so that the word of God does not enter deeply into their lives. Even the Sacrament of Penance is thought by many to be unimportant and the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is seen as a mere duty to be performed.
How should we respond to the invitation to conversion that Jesus addresses to us in this time of Lent? How can there be a serious change in our life? First of all, we must open our hearts to the penetrating call that comes to us from the Liturgy. The time of preparation for Easter is a providential gift from the Lord and a precious opportunity to draw closer to him, turning inward to listen to his promptings deep within. .
2. There are Christians who think they can dispense with this unceasing spiritual effort, because they do not see the urgency of standing before the truth of the Gospel. Lest their way of life be upset, they seek to take words like "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you" (Lk 6:27) and render them empty and innocuous. For these people, it is extremely difficult to accept such words and to translate them into consistent patterns of behaviour. They are in fact words which, if taken seriously, demand a radical conversion. On the other hand, when we are offended or hurt, we are tempted to succumb to the psychological impulses of self-pity and revenge, ignoring Jesus’ call to love our enemy. Yet the daily experiences of human life show very clearly how much forgiveness and reconciliation are indispensable if there is to be genuine renewal, both personal and social. This applies not only to interpersonal relationships, but also to relationships between communities and nations. .
3. The many tragic conflicts which grievously wound humanity, some of them stirred by mistaken religious motives, have sown violence and hatred between peoples and even at times between groups and factions within the same nation. With a distressing sense of powerlessness, we sometimes see a revival of hostilities which we had thought were finally settled, and it seems that some peoples are caught in an unstoppable spiral of violence, which continues to claim victim after victim, without any real prospect of resolution. And hopes for peace, heard all around the world, come to nothing: for the commitment required to move towards the longed-for reconciliation fails to take hold..
Faced with this disturbing scenario, Christians cannot remain indifferent. That is why, during the Jubilee Year just concluded, I gave voice to the Church’s plea to God for forgiveness for the sins of her children. We well know that the sins of Christians have marred the unblemished face of the Church, but trusting in the merciful love of God, who keeps no account of evil when there is repentance, we can confidently set forth on our journey once more. God’s love is clearly revealed where sinful and ungrateful man is readmitted to full communion with the divinity. Seen in this light, "purification of memory" is above all a renewed proclamation of the mercy of God, a confession which the Church at every level is called to make again and again with fresh conviction. .
4. The only path to peace is forgiveness. Forgiveness given and received enables a new kind of relationship among people, breaking the spiral of hatred and revenge and shattering the chains of evil which bind the hearts of those in conflict with one another. For nations in search of reconciliation and for those who hope for peaceful co-existence between individuals and peoples, there is no other way than this: forgiveness given and received. How full of salutary lessons are the words of the Lord: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust" (Mt 5:44-45)! To love those who have offended us is to disarm them and to turn even a battle-field into an arena of mutual support and cooperation..
This is a challenge not only to individuals but also to communities, peoples and humanity as a whole. In a special way it concerns families. It is not easy to be converted to forgiveness and reconciliation. To choose reconciliation can seem problematic enough when we ourselves are at fault. But if the fault is someone else’s, reconciliation may even seem a senseless humiliation. An inner conversion is required if this step is to be taken; the courage to be humbly obedient to Jesus’ command is needed. His word leaves no doubt: not only those who provoke hostility but also those who are its victim must seek reconciliation (cf. Mt 5:23-24). Christians must make peace even when they feel that they are victims of those who have struck and hurt them unjustly. This was how the Lord himself acted. He expects his disciple to follow him, and in this way cooperate in redeeming his brothers.
In our own time, forgiveness appears more and more essential if there is to be genuine social renewal and a consolidation of peace in the world. In proclaiming forgiveness and love of enemies, the Church is aware of adding to the spiritual heritage of all humanity a new mode of human relationships; an arduous mode, to be sure, but one that is also rich in hope. In this, the Church knows she can rely on the help of the Lord, who never abandons those who turn to him in times of difficulty. .
5. "Love is not resentful" (1 Cor 13:5). With these words from the First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul recalls that forgiveness is one of the highest forms of the practice of charity. The season of Lent is a favourable time to explore still more deeply the meaning of this truth. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Father gives us in Christ his pardon, and this impels us to live in love, seeing the other not as an enemy, but as a brother..
May this time of penance and reconciliation encourage believers to think and act according to true charity, open to every human circumstance. This inner disposition will ensure that believers will bear the fruits of the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22) and that with a heart renewed they will offer material help to those in need..
A heart reconciled with God and neighbour is a generous heart. In the holy season of Lent the "collection" assumes a special meaning, because it is not a matter of giving from one’s surplus in order to soothe one’s conscience, but of taking upon oneself in a spirit of fraternal concern the misery present in the world. To look upon the sorrowing face and the suffering of so many brothers and sisters cannot fail to prompt us to share at least some part of our own possessions with those who are in difficulty. And the Lenten offering becomes still more meaningful if those who make it are set free from resentment and indifference, which are obstacles that keep us far from communion with God and with others..
The world expects Christians to bear unequivocal witness to communion and solidarity. On this point, the words of the Apostle John are most enlightening: "If any of you has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?" (1 Jn 3:17).
Brothers and sisters! St John Chrysostom, commenting upon the Lord’s teaching as he journeys to Jerusalem, recalls that Christ does not leave the disciples ignorant of the struggles and sacrifices that await them. Jesus stresses that it is hard but not impossible to renounce oneself when one can count on God’s help bestowed on us "through communion with the person of Christ" (PG 58, 619s).
That is why, in this Lenten season, I wish to invite all believers to an ardent and trusting prayer to the Lord, that he may grant each of us a fresh experience of his mercy. Only this gift will help us to receive and live ever more joyfully and generously the love of Christ which "does not insist on its own way, ... is not resentful, ... does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right" (1 Cor 13, 5-6).
With these sentiments, I entrust the Lenten journey of the entire community of believers to the protection of the Mother of Mercy, and I cordially impart to each of you my Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 7 January 2001
Papa San Giovanni Paolo II's Catechesis on Ash Wednesday
General Audience, 28 February 2001 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
"1. "O that today you would hear his voice: harden not your hearts".
This invitation echoes in our souls as today, Ash Wednesday, we begin our Lenten journey. It will lead to the Easter Triduum, the living memorial of the Lord's passion, death and resurrection, the central mystery of our salvation.
The holy season of Lent, which has always held deep meaning for the Christian people, recalls ancient biblical events such as the 40 days of the universal flood, a prelude to the covenant that God made with Noah; Israel's 40-year pilgrimage through the desert to the promised land; the 40 days that Moses remained on Mount Sinai, where he received the tablets of the Law from Yahweh.
In particular, the Lenten season invites us to relive with Jesus the 40 days that he spent praying and fasting in the wilderness before beginning his public mission, which culminated on Calvary in the sacrifice of the Cross, the definitive victory over death.
2. "Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return". The traditional rite of distributing ashes, which is repeated today, is always very eloquent, and the words accompanying it are expressive. In its simplicity, it suggests the transitory nature of earthly life: everything passes and is destined to die. We are wayfarers in this world, wayfarers who must never forget their true and final destination: heaven. For, though we are dust and destined to become dust, nevertheless not all will come to an end. Man, created in the image and likeness of God, is destined for eternal life. In dying on the Cross, Jesus opened the way for every human being.
The entire Ash Wednesday liturgy helps us to focus on this fundamental truth of faith and spurs us to undertake a resolute journey of personal renewal. We must change our way of thinking and acting, set our gaze firmly on the face of Christ crucified and make his Gospel our daily rule of life. "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel": let this be our Lenten programme, as we enter an atmosphere of prayerful listening to the Spirit.
3. "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willling, but the flesh is weak" (Mt 26: 41). Let us be guided by these words of the Lord in a committed effort of conversion and spiritual renewal. In daily life there is a risk of being absorbed in material concerns and interests. Lent is an appropriate time for a reawakening of genuine faith, for a salutary renewal of our relationship with God and for a more generous Gospel commitment. The means available to us are the same as always, but we must use them more intensely in these weeks: prayer, fasting and penance, as well as almsgiving, that is, the sharing of what we have with the needy. This personal and community journey of asceticism can be particularly difficult at times because of the secularized environment in which we live. But for this very reason our effort must be stronger and more determined.
"Watch and pray". If Christ's command applies to all times, it seems more eloquent and forceful at the start of Lent. Let us accept it with humble docility. Let us prepare to carry it out in practical acts of conversion and reconciliation with our brethren. Only in this way can faith be reinvigorated, hope be strengthened and love become the way of life that distinguishes the believer.
4. The fruit of such a courageous ascetical journey can only be a greater openness to the needs of our neighbour. Those who love the Lord cannot close their eyes to individuals and peoples who are tried by suffering and poverty. After contemplating the face of the crucified Lord, how can we not recognize him and serve him in those who are suffering and abandoned? Jesus himself, who invites us to stay with him watching and praying, also asks us to love him in our brothers and sisters, remembering that "as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25: 40). The fruit of a Lent intensely lived will thus be a greater and more universal love.
May Mary, the example of docile listening to the voice of the Spirit, guide us on the penitential journey we are beginning today. May she help us to treasure all the opportunities the Church offers us in order to prepare ourselves worthily for the celebration of the Easter mystery.
I extend a cordial welcome to the parish pilgrimages, the choirs and the groups of students present at this audience. Upon all of you and your families I invoke the abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Father called for an immediate ceasefire to the war in Afghanistan and asked the international community not to forget the tragic situation that is particularly threatening the young, the sick and the elderly:
A serious humanitarian emergency is developing in Afghanistan. There are alarming reports of countless victims among those displaced by drought and civil war. Thousands of people are in danger of dying from hunger and the cold, particularly children, the sick and the elderly.
I express my deep appreciation of the efforts of the humanitarian organizations that are trying to bring urgent aid to the Afghan people. As I invite the international community not to forget this tragic situation, I hope that the combatants in an overly long and bloody war will arrange an immediate ceasefire so that relief can be brought in time to the areas most at risk."
Papa San Juan Pablo II's Homily on Ash Wednesday
Basilica of St Sabina on the Aventine Hill, Rome - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
"1. "Be reconciled to God.... Behold, now is the acceptable time" (2 Cor 5: 20; 6: 2).This is the invitation that the liturgy addresses to us at the beginning of Lent, urging us to be aware of the gift of salvation offered, in Christ, to everyone.In speaking of the "acceptable time", the Apostle Paul refers to the "fullness of time" (cf. Gal 4: 4), that is, the time when God, through Jesus, "answered" and "helped" his people, completely fulfilling the promises of the prophets (cf. Is 49: 8). In Christ the time of mercy and pardon, the time of joy and salvation, is accomplished.From the historical standpoint, the "acceptable time" is the time when the Gospel is proclaimed by the Church to people of every race and culture so that they will repent and open themselves to the gift of redemption. Life is then deeply transformed.2. "Behold, now is the acceptable time".Lent, which begins today, is certainly an "acceptable time" in the liturgical year for receiving the grace of God with greater openness. Precisely for this reason it is called the "sacramental sign of our conversion" (Opening Prayer, First Sunday of Lent, Italian Missal): the sign and effective instrument of that radical change of life that calls for constant renewal in believers. The source of this extraordinary divine gift is the paschal mystery, the mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, the source of redemption for every person, for history and for the entire universe.In a certain way the imposition of ashes, illustrated by the words that accompany it: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1: 15), refers to this mystery of suffering and love. Even the fast we observe today refers to this same mystery, so that we might begin a journey of true conversion in which union with the passion of Christ enables us to face and to win the struggle against the spirit of evil (cf. Opening Prayer, Ash Wednesday).3. "Behold, now is the acceptable time".With this in mind, we begin our Lenten journey, taking up the spirit of the Great Jubilee that marked an extraordinary time of repentance and reconciliation for the entire Church. It was a year of intense spiritual fervour, in which God's mercy was poured abundantly on the world. In order for this treasure of grace to continue spiritually enriching the Christian people, I offered concrete guidelines in the Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte on how to begin this new phase in the Church's history.Here I would like to recall several of those guidelines which are well suited to the special characteristics of Lent. First of all, contemplation of the face of the Lord: a face that appears in Lent as "a face of sorrow" (cf. nn. 25-27). In the liturgy, in the Lenten Stationes and in the devout practice of the Via Crucis, contemplative prayer prompts us to unite ourselves with the mystery of the One whom, though he knew no sin, God made to be sin for our sake (cf. 2 Cor 5: 21). In the school of the saints, every baptized person is called to follow Jesus more closely: as he was going up to Jerusalem and foresaw his passion, he confided to the disciples: "I have a baptism to be baptized with" (Lk 12: 50). The Lenten journey thus becomes for us a docile following of the Son of God, who became an obedient Servant.4. The journey to which Lent invites us takes place above all in prayer: Christian communities must become authentic "schools of prayer" in these weeks. Another important objective is helping the faithful to approach the sacrament of Reconciliation, so that everyone may "rediscover Christ as mysterium pietatis, the one in whom God shows us his compassionate heart and reconciles us fully with himself" (Novo millennio ineunte, n. 37). Moreover, the experience of God's mercy cannot fail to inspire the commitment to charity, spurring the Christian community to "stake everything on charity" (cf. Novo millennio ineunte, IV). In the school of Christ, the community better understands the demanding preferential option for the poor, which is a "testimony to the nature of God's love, to his providence and mercy" (ibid.).5. "We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5: 20).There is a growing need for reconciliation and forgiveness in today's world. I spoke of this recurring desire for forgiveness and reconciliation in the Message for this Lent. The Church, basing herself on the word of Christ, proclaims forgiveness and love for one's enemies. By doing so she "is conscious to inspire in the spiritual patrimony of all humanity a new way of relating to each other; a somewhat difficult way but rich in hope" (Message, n. 4). This is the gift she offers to the people of our time."Be reconciled to God!": these words insistently echo in our spirit. Today - the liturgy tells us - is the "acceptable time" for our reconciliation with God. With this in mind, we will receive ashes and take the first steps of our Lenten journey. Let us generously continue on this road, keeping our eyes firmly set on Christ crucified. For the Cross is humanity's salvation: only by starting from the Cross is it possible to build a future of hope and peace for everyone."
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