Friday, March 28, 2014

Afternoon meditation: Lenten Friday with Francis

Part of a continuing series of reflections based on Pope Francis' Lenten Message 2014.

After spending some time dwelling on the poverty of Christ in his Incarnation, his identification with sinners in the Baptism in the Jordan, and his unfailing, childlike confidence in the Heavenly Father, Pope Francis considers our situation. As St Paul would say, "Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth" (1 Cor. 1:26). Overall, the Church is not characterized by prosperity! St. Lawrence the Martyr was being perfectly honest when he brought the poor and needy to the Roman judge who had demanded "the treasures of the Church." A Church with any other treasure is to that degree unfaithful to grace.

And so Pope Francis invites us "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." But he goes beyond a simple identification of material want with poverty. Francis instead speaks of destitution, and he sees three forms of this dehumanizing poverty that cries out for remedy. "Destitution is poverty without faith, without support, without hope. There are three types...material, moral and spiritual." 

The Holy Father not only calls on us to share our resources in order to relieve this suffering--although he clearly intends that we do, and at a cost ("I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt").  Like Dorothy Day or Dom Helder C├ómara,  Francis challenges us to tackle the causes of destitution: the "violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world." He draws our attention back to Christ: "In the poor and outcast we see Christ's face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ." 

Chicago's Cardinal Francis George emphasizes the importance of Catholics really "meeting Christ" if they are to live the faith in a meaningful way. He has even said that if this aspect of formation is taken care of, even if our institutions are compromised, the Church will be strong.  There's a bit of a risk at Lent that for 40 days we can speak piously about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and even fill our CRS Rice Bowl with money saved by eating more simply, and then once Easter comes, go back to "normal." Pope Francis seems to be hinting that "going back to normal" is a sign that we didn't see Christ's face during Lent; for all our good will, we may have just gone through the motions. 

What steps are you taking that this Lent will be a genuinely life-changing season, when you break with habit (even just crusted-over, useless patterns you've developed) to enter a "new normal" in the Easter season?

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