Dear Brothers and Sisters:
With this message, I would like to help the entire Church experience this time of grace anew, with joy and in truth, and so I write this Lenten message. I take my theme from the words of Jesus: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold. (Matthew 24:12)”
These words appear in Christ’s teaching about the end of time. They were spoken in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, where the Lord’s passion would begin. In reply to a question of the disciples, Jesus foretells a great tribulation, and describes a situation in which the community of believers might well find itself. Amid great trials, false prophets will lead the people astray, and the love that is the core of the Gospel will grow cold in the hearts of many.
Let us listen attentively to this Gospel passage, and try to understand the guise such false prophets can assume. They can appear as “snake charmers,” who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others. How many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness! How many men and women live entranced by the dream of wealth, which only makes them slaves to profit and petty interests! How many go through life believing that they are sufficient unto themselves, and end up entrapped by loneliness!
False prophets can also be “charlatans,” who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless. How many young people are taken in by the panacea of drugs, of disposable relationships, of easy but dishonest gains. These swindlers rob people of what is most precious: dignity, freedom, and the ability to love. They appeal to our vanity, our trust in appearances, but in the end only make fools of us. We should not be surprised. In order to confound the human heart, the devil, who is “the father of lies, (John 8:44)” has always presented evil as good, false- hood as truth. That is why each of us must peer into our heart to see if we are falling prey to the lies of these false prophets. We must learn to look closely, beneath the surface, and to recognize what leaves a good and lasting mark on our hearts, because it comes from God and is truly for our benefit.
In his description of hell, Dante pictures the devil seated on a throne of ice, in frozen and loveless isolation. We might well ask ourselves how it happens that love can turn cold within us. What are the signs that our love is beginning to cool?
More than anything else, what destroys love is greed for money, “the root of all evil. (1 Timothy 6:10)” The rejection of God and his peace soon follows. We prefer our own desolation rather than the comfort we can find in God’s word and sacraments. All this leads to violence against anyone we perceive as a threat to our own false sense of security: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbor who does not live up to our expectations.
Creation itself becomes a silent witness to this cooling of love. The earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or self-interest. The seas, them- selves polluted, engulf the remains of countless ship- wrecked victims of forced migration. The heavens, which in God’s plan, were created to sing God’s praises, are rent by engines raining down implements of death.
Love can also grow cold in our own communities. The most evident signs of this lack of love are selfishness, worldly pessimism, self-absorption, warring among ourselves, and a mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances.
Perhaps we see, deep within ourselves, and all around us, the signs I have just described. But the Church, our Mother and Teacher, along with the often bitter medicine of truth, offers us the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting during the season of Lent.
By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out secret lies and forms of self- deception. We can then discover the consolation God offers. God is our Father and wants us to live life well.
Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone. How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us! When we give alms, we share God’s providential care for each of his children. If through me God helps someone today, will he not tomorrow provide for my own needs? For no one is more generous than God.
Fasting weakens our tendency to violence. It disarms us, and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and starving have to endure. On the other hand, it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbor. It revives our desire for God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.
I urge all the faithful of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of love seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case with the heart of God. God constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.
With affection and the promise of my prayers for all of you, I send my blessing. Please do not forget to pray for me.