Pope St John Paul II's Message
(Mt 10:8) - in Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
"Freely you have received, freely give”
Dearest Brothers and Sisters!
1. We are going to retrace the Lenten path, which will lead us to the solemn celebrations of the central mystery of faith, the mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. We are preparing to live the favourable time which the Church offers believers so as to meditate on the work of salvation realized by the Lord on the Cross. The heavenly Father’s salvific design was accomplished in the free and total gift of the only begotten Son to men. “No one takes my life from me, but I offer it up of my own accord” (Jn 10:18), affirms Jesus, leaving no doubt that He sacrifices his own life, voluntarily, for the salvation of the world. In confirmation of so great a gift of love, the Redeemer adds: “No one has a greater love than this: to give his life for his own friends” (Jn 15:13).
Lent, the providential time for conversion, helps us to contemplate this stupendous mystery of love. It constitutes a return to the roots of faith, so that, by meditating on the immeasurable gift of grace which the Redemption is, we cannot but realize that all has been given to us by divine loving initiative. In order to meditate upon this aspect of the salvific mystery, I have chosen as the theme for this year’s Lenten Message the Lord’s words: “Freely you have received, freely give” (Mt 10:8).
2. God has freely given us his Son: who has or could ever merit a similar privilege? St Paul affirms: “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, but are justified freely by his grace” (Rom 3:23-24). God has loved us with infinite mercy, without being closed off by the condition of the serious rupture in which sin had placed the human person. He kindly stooped down to our infirmity, taking the occasion for a new and still more wondrous outpouring of his love. The Church does not cease to proclaim this mystery of infinite goodness, exalting the free divine choice and his desire not to condemn but to readmit man into communion with Him.
“Freely you have received, freely give”. May these evangelical words resonate in the heart of every Christian community on their penitential pilgrimage towards Easter. May Lent, recalling to the spirit the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Lord, lead every Christian to marvel intimately at the greatness of such a gift. Yes! Freely we have received. Is not our existence entirely marked by the benevolence of God? The beginning of life and its marvellous development is a gift. And precisely because it is gift, existence can not be considered a possession or private property, even if the capabilities, which we now have to improve the quality of life, can make one think that man is its “master”. Indeed, the achievements of medicine and biotechnology can sometimes lead man to think himself his own creator, and to succumb to the temptation of manipulating “the tree of life” (Gn 3:24).
It is also worth repeating here that not everything that is technically possible is also morally acceptable. The efforts of science to ensure a quality of life more conformed to human dignity are admirable, but it must never be forgotten that human life is a gift, and that it remains a value also when it is marked by suffering and limitations. A gift always to be accepted and to be loved: freely received and freely to be placed at the service of others.
3. Lent, in setting before us the example of Christ who immolated himself for us on Calvary, helps us in a unique way to understand that life is in Him redeemed. Through the means of the Holy Spirit, He renews our life and makes us participants in this divine life itself which introduces us to the intimacy of God and enables us to experience his love for us. This is a sublime gift, which the Christian cannot but proclaim with joy. St John writes in his Gospel: “This is eternal life: that they know you, the one true God, and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3). This life, communicated to us through Baptism, we must continually nourish with a faithful response, both individually and communally, through prayer, the celebration of the Sacraments and evangelical witness.
Having, in fact, freely received this life, we must in our turn, give it to our brothers in a free way. It is what Jesus asked of the disciples, sending them out as his witnesses in the world: “Freely you received, freely give.” And the first gift to be given is that of a holy life, bearing witness to the free love of God. May the Lenten journey be for all believers a constant call to deepen this special vocation of ours. We must be open, as believers, to an existence marked by “gratuitousness”, dedicating ourselves without reserve to God and to our neighbour.
4. “What do you have,” St Paul admonishes, “that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 4:7). The demand which follows from this awareness is that of loving our brothers and sisters, and of dedicating ourselves to them. The more they are in need, the more urgent for the believer becomes the duty to serve them. Does not God permit ther to be conditions of need, because by going out to others we learn to free ourselves from our egoism and to live authentic evangelical love? The command of Jesus is clear: “If you love those who love you, what merit do you have? Do not the tax-collectors do as much?” (Mt 5:46). The world prizes human relationships based on self-interest and one's own profit, feeding an egocentric vision of existence, in which all too often there is no place for the poor and weak. Every person, including the least gifted, must instead be accepted and loved for themselves, beyond their merits and defects. Indeed, the more they are in difficulties, the more they must be the object of our concrete love. It is this love which the Church, through her innumerable institutions, bears witness in its responsibility for the sick, the marginalized, the poor and the exploited. Christians, in this way, become apostles of hope and builders of the civilization of love.
It is highly significant that Jesus spoke the words “You received without paying, give without pay” as he sent the Apostles out to spread the Gospel of salvation, which is his first and foremost gift to humanity. Christ wants his Kingdom, which is already close at hand (cf. Mt 10:5ff.), to be spread through gestures of gratuitous love accomplished by his disciples. This is what the Apostles did in the early days of Christianity, and those who met them saw them as bearers of a message greater than themselves. In our own day too the good done by believers becomes a sign, and often an invitation to believe. When, like the Good Samaritan, Christians respond to the needs of their neighbour, theirs is never merely material assistance. It is always a proclamation of the Kingdom as well, and speaks of the full meaning of life, hope and love.
5. Dear Brothers and Sisters! Let this be how we prepare to live this Lent: in practical generosity towards the poorest of our brothers and sisters! By opening our hearts to them, we realize ever more deeply that what we give to others is our response to the many gifts which the Lord continues to give to us. We have received without paying, let us give without pay!
What better time is there than Lent for offering this testimony of gratuitousness which the world so badly needs? In the very love which God has for us, there lies the call to give ourselves freely to others in turn. I thank all those throughout the world – lay people, religious and priests – who offer this witness of charity. May it be true of all Christians, whatever the circumstances in which they live.
May the Virgin Mary, Mother of Fair Love and Hope, be our guide and strength on this Lenten journey. Assuring you all of an affectionate remembrance in my prayers, I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing to each of you, especially to those engaged day after day on the many frontiers of charity.
From the Vatican, 4 October 2001, Feast of St Francis of Assisi
Papa San Giovanni Paolo II's Catechesis on Ash Wednesday
General Audience, 13 February 2002 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
"1. The general audience today, Ash Wednesday, is characterized by a special spirit of prayer, reflection and penitence. With the whole Church we begin a 40-day journey in preparation for Easter, with the austere sign of the imposition of ashes coupled with the word of Christ: "Repent and believe in the Gospel". The Church reminds every human being of his condition as sinner and the need for repentance and conversion.
Christian faith reminds us that this pressing call to reject evil and to do good is the gift of God, from whom comes every good thing for human life. Everything begins with the free initiative of God, who creates us for happiness and directs everything towards its true good. With his grace, he precedes our own desire of conversion and he accompanies our efforts to adhere fully to his saving will.
2. In this year's Lenten Message, published a few days ago, I wished to indicate to the whole Catholic world the theme of the free giftedness (gratuità) of the initiative of God in our lives, an essential element of the whole Biblical revelation. Lent is "a providential time for conversion", because it "helps us to contemplate this stupendous mystery of love" on account of which Jesus exhorts us: "You received without paying, give without pay" (Mt 10,8). We can see how the Lenten journey is shown in its deepest reality as "a return to the roots of our faith, so that by pondering the measureless gift of grace which is Redemption, we cannot fail to realize that all has been given to us by God's loving initiative".
The Apostle Paul expresses with incisive and timely phrases the free giftedness (gratuità) of the grace of God, who reconciled us with himself out of love. In fact he reminds us: "Why one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5,7-8). That God who in his immense love created us, and who also out of love destined us to full communion with himself, awaits from us a similar generous, free and conscious response.
3. The journey of conversion, that we confidently undertake today, enters fully into this original exchange of love and free gift (gratuità). Are not the almsgiving and the charitable activity which we are invited to perform, particularly during this season of penance, a response to the free gift (gratuità) of divine grace? If we have received a free gift, it is with a free gift that we should give back (cf. Mt 10,8).
Today's society has a deep need to rediscover the positive value of free giving (gratuità), especially because in our world what often prevails is a logic motivated exclusively by the pursuit of profit and gain at any price. Reacting to the widespread feeling that the logic of the market's profit motive guides every choice and act, and that the law of the greatest possible profit must prevail, Christian faith proposes again the idea of free giving, founded on the intelligent freedom of human beings inspired by authentic love.
We entrust these 40 days of intense prayer and penance to the Virgin Mary, the "Mother of Fair Love". May she guide us and lead us to celebrate worthily the great mystery of the Passover of Christ, supreme revelation of the free and merciful love of our heavenly Father."
Papa San Juan Pablo II's Homily on Ash Wednesday
Basilica of St Sabina, Rome - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish
1. "Rend your hearts and not your garments, return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and gracious" (Jl 2,13).
With these words of the prophet Joel, the liturgy today leads us into Lent. The liturgy assures us that the conversion of heart is the basic feature of the wonderful time of grace that we begin to live. Likewise, it suggests the deep motivation that makes us capable of getting back on the path toward God: it is the renewed appreciation that the Lord is merciful and that every human being is a son whom He loves and calls to conversion.
With great richness of symbols, the prophetic text just proclaimed recalls that our spiritual motivation is to be made concrete in decisions and actions; that authentic conversion should not be reduced to external forms or vague intentions, but calls for us to involve and transform our entire existence.
The exhortation "return to the Lord your God" implies that we detach ourselves from what keeps us far from Him. Our being detached is the necessary starting place for re-establishing with God the covenant broken by sin.
2. "We implore you in the name of Christ: be reconciled to God!" (2 Cor 5,20). The pressing call to be reconciled with God is found in the passage of the second Letter to the Corinthians that we have just heard.
At the centre of the entire course of the Apostle's argument, the reference to Christ shows that in Him the sinner receives the possibility of an authentic reconciliation. Indeed, "God made him who did not know sin to be sin so that in him we might become the justice of God" (2 Cor 5,21). Only Christ can transform a situation of sin into a situation of grace. Only he can create an acceptable time out of the time in which humanity is immersed in and swept away by sin, upset by divisions and hatred. "He is our peace, who has made both of us one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility ... to reconcile both with God in one body through the cross" (Eph 2,14-16).
This is the acceptable time! The time is offered today to us, who undertake with a penitent spirit the austere Lenten journey.
3. "Return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning" (Jl 2,12).
With the words of the prophet Joel, the liturgy of Ash Wednesday exhorts to conversion older persons, mature men and women, young people and children. All have to ask pardon of the Lord for ourselves and for others (cf. ibid., 2,16-17).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, following the custom of the Lenten stations, we are gathered here in the ancient Basilica of Santa Sabina, to respond to that pressing appeal. We, like the contemporaries of the prophet, have before our eyes and imprinted on our minds the images of suffering and of immense tragedies, often the fruit of irresponsible egotism. We also feel the weight of the disarray of so many men and women in the face of the suffering of the innocent and the clashes of humanity today. We need the help of the Lord to recover our confidence and joy of living. We should return to Him, who opens for us the portal of his heart, rich in goodness and mercy.
4. Today, at the centre of our liturgical celebration, there is a symbolic action, interpreted by the words that are used with it. It is the imposition of the ashes, whose meaning, as a pointed reference to the human condition, is focused by the first formula offered by the rite: "Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return" (cf. Gen 3,19). These words taken from the Book of Genesis recall the fragility of our existence and invite us to consider the vanity of every earthly project for the human person who does not put his trust in the Lord. The second formula that the rite provides: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1,15) focuses on the indispensable condition for progress in the Christian life: one needs to make a true interior change and to accept with confidence the word of Christ.
Today's rite can be considered to be a "liturgy of death"; it refers to Good Friday, when our rite will be fully completed. It is in Him, who "humbled himself making himself obedient unto death, even death on the Cross" (Phil 2,8) that we should die to ourselves to be reborn to eternal life.
5. Let us listen to the call that the Lord directs to us through the intense and austere rites and prayers of the liturgy of Ash Wednesday. Let us accept the call with the humble and confident attitude of the Psalmist: "Against you only have I sinned, and I have done what is evil in your sight". Again, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and steadfast spirit within" (cf. Ps 50).
May the Lenten season be for all a renewed experience of conversion and of deep reconciliation with God, with ourselves and with our brothers and sisters. May Our Lady of Sorrows obtain it for us. In our Lenten journey we contemplate her associated with the suffering and redemptive passion of her Son."
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