In advance of the season of Lent, which begins next month, the Vatican on Tuesday released the first of Pope Francis' messages to the faithful for the Lenten season. The Pope's first Lenten message focuses on the poverty of Jesus Christ in becoming man, and how it is the duty of every Christian to give that same witness that Jesus did in our care for the poor.
The Pope quoted the words of the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians as the theme of his reflection. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” The meaning of these words today is to "show us how God works" and that "God's becoming man is a great mystery."
The apostle's words are "no mere play on words or a catch phrase, rather, it sums up God’s logic, the logic of love, the logic of the incarnation and the cross,” the Pontiff wrote. “God did not let our salvation drop down from heaven, like someone who gives alms from their abundance out of a sense of altruism and piety. Christ’s love is different!” Francis exclaimed. “Christ’s poverty is the greatest treasure of all, Jesus’ wealth is that of his boundless confidence in God the Father, his constant trust, his desire always and only to do the Father’s will and give glory to him. There is only one real kind of poverty: not living as children of God and brothers and sisters of Christ.”
The Holy Father said that as human beings, we often believe that we can save or change the world through human resources or ingenuity, but we are mistaken. “In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it,” the Pope taught, “there are three types of destitution: material, moral and spiritual.”
“Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, itaffects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally.” The Church responds by trying to meet those needs and "binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity, because in the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face,” Francis wrote.
“Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth, our consciences…need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.”
Moral destitution is an even worse form of destitution, and it “consists in slavery to vice and sin, and many families suffer because one of their members – often a young person - is in thrall to alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography!” declared Francis. “Many no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future and have lost hope due to unemployment, unjust social conditions, or unequal access to education and healthcare, such cases of moral destitution can be considered impending suicide,” said the Pontiff. “This type of destitution, which also causes financial ruin, is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love, when we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall.”
The solution for spiritual destitution is the Gospel. “Wherever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible. The Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope, it is thrilling to experience the joy of spreading this good news,” the Pope proclaimed. “Imitate Christ who became poor and enriched us by his poverty. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial,” and we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty.”
“Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt,” said the Pontiff.