Reflection on Pope's Lenten Message

Author: Cardinal Robert Sarah


Cardinal Sarah's Reflection on Pope's Lenten Message

"Faith, With Its Promise of Eternal Life Given to Us in Baptism, Requires Constant Nurturing"

Here is a theological/pastoral reflection on Benedict XVI's 2011 Lenten message, written by Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

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"You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him" (cf. Col 2:12). These words, addressed by Saint Paul to the Christian community at Colossae, indicate the theme of Baptism chosen by Pope Benedict XVI for His Lenten Message this year. The Holy Father returns to a citation from the Apostle to the Gentiles as a synthesis of the goal of this sacrament: that "I may come to know him and the power of his resurrection, and partake of his sufferings by being molded to the pattern of his death" (Phil 3:10-11).

The Pontifical Council Cor Unum is the dicastery of the Holy See entrusted with the presentation of the Lenten Message. The Council's main task is to diffuse the Church's catechesis on charity and the concrete charitable initiatives of our Holy Father. It is to provide you with assistance in making known this year's Lenten Message in your local Churches, communities and organizations that Cor Unum offers the following insights on the evident link that Pope Benedict wishes to underline between Baptism and charity

1. In the face of the very real suffering that we encounter on a global level – natural disasters, disease, famine, war – we are obliged to meet the immediate need and seek out concrete solutions to alleviate misery (Deus Caritas est #31a). But, however important it is to provide for material necessities, these alone can never guarantee our lasting happiness and peace. Christ founded the Church to give much more. Suffering, both global and personal – sickness, loneliness, financial distress, family problems, and ultimately, the greatest enemy of all, death – requires an answer that only the possession of eternal life can give: to know "the power of Christ's resurrection, and partake of his sufferings by being molded to the pattern of his death, striving towards the goal of resurrection from the dead".

2. This gift is promised to us in our Baptism. Indeed, in the dialogue, which forms part of the Rite, the questions and responses point to the gift of "faith" and the promise of "eternal life". The sacrament of Baptism both signifies and effects this gift: "This very life was already bestowed upon us on the day of our Baptism, when we ‘become sharers in Christ's death and Resurrection'", writes the Pope in His Lenten Message. The Greek word "to baptize" (báptizein) signifies an immersion or plunging in the baptismal waters of what the Apostle Paul refers to as the "old man" or the man who lives according to the flesh (cf. Col 3:9). This is the man who lives only for himself, arrogantly cutting himself loose from his Creator and selfishly closing his eyes to the needs of his neighbor. It is not merely a theological description: every one of can readily understand this "old man" because we experience the direct effects of this nature within us, summed up in the seven capital sins: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and gluttony.

3. Baptism is the "encounter with Christ", writes Pope Benedict in His Message. It washes away the original sin that we have inherited from our first parents and all consequent sins, and imparts a new nature, allowing us to put on "the mind of Jesus Christ". This "new man" lives according to the sentiments of Jesus through the "eternal life" that he receives already now in the Holy Spirit. Saint Paul lists the fruits of God's spirit dwelling within us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22). In the very depths of the human person – baptized and non-baptized – lies the desire to receive and live by these fruits. Only the possession of this life provides the lasting remedy to all suffering, both personal and universal.

4. The new nature received in Baptism is the source for specific works of charity done for love of God and neighbor, the first and greatest Commandment of the new Law and compendium of the entire Gospel (cf. Mt 22:34-40). Fasting, almsgiving and prayer are aids both to assist us to die to our old nature and open our heart towards God and our brother and sister in need.

Faith, with its promise of "eternal life" given to us in Baptism, requires constant nurturing (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1254). This Lent, Pope Benedict proposes an itinerary or a "road map" to assist us in this. Three elements may be especially useful to propose to parish communities, institutions, such as Catholic schools and universities, and individuals:

— First, the Holy Father fixes for us concrete appointments with specific persons and events on the five Sundays of Lent. He puts before us the Word of God proclaimed on those Sundays. By doing so, he wishes for us to experience a personal encounter with Christ, the answer to the deepest longings of the human person and the world. This encounter may be concretized by time spent personally or with others with these Scripture passages, allowing ourselves in these forty days to hear, contemplate and act on God's Word.

— Second, the encounter with Christ in His Word and the sacraments manifests itself in concrete works of mercy. Here, too, our parishes, communities, educational and other institutions and each of us personally have an opportunity in this favorable time, with the help of God's grace, to move our hearts from living for ourselves to loving God and our neighbor in need.  This is the impetus, too, for the Lenten Campaigns, which Episcopal Conferences and other entities organize. — Third, the Pope puts the season of Lent before us as a "path" or "journey", a span of time to bring to fruition the seed planted at Baptism. This, he indicates, mirrors the entire existence of every human being, lived in between Christ's resurrection and our own; this ultimate offer of communion with God in eternity informs our current life, both social and individual. This third element points to the need to encourage the living out of this journey with the assistance of grace, particularly through the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist.

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