Pope Francis’ Lenten message addresses the age-old human tendency to be led astray by the appeal of wealth, momentary pleasure, too-easy solutions and other seeming panaceas that “present evil as good; falsehood as truth.”
Lent, which began yesterday, Feb. 14, is a time to examine our lives, he writes.
“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 would lead people astray and the love that is the core of the Gospel would grow cold in the hearts of many,” he explains.
Today, the Holy Father notes, false prophets manipulate and enslave people, mesmerize them with momentary pleasures and “the dream of wealth, which only makes them slaves to profit and petty interests.”
False prophets also present themselves as easy solutions that prove useless, drugs, “disposable relationships” and dishonest gains. These things “rob people of all that is most precious: dignity, freedom and the ability to love.”
To avoid this, he explains, “each of us is called to 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.”
He goes on to ask, “What are we to do?”
Very simply, we are to take up the three tools of Lent: Fasting, praying and almsgiving.
“By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well,” he explains.
“Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to 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!”
He goes on, “I would also hope that, even in our daily encounters with those who beg for our assistance, we would see such requests as coming from God himself. When we give alms, we share in God’s providential care for each of his children.”
Finally, he notes, “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 the starving have to endure,” he writes. “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 to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”
In his conclusion, Pope Francis points us toward Easter and the hope for new beginnings.
“Above all, I urge the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.”
All of us know deep down that we fall prey to these false prophets. Sometimes even fear, not outright greed or apparent self-interest — drives us toward these false prophets. But they are false nonetheless.
There is no time like Lent to examine our lives, receive the sacrament of reconciliation and re-center ourselves on Christ and his teachings.
Pope Francis concludes his catechesis:
“By listening to God’s word and drawing nourishment from the table of the Eucharist, may our hearts be ever more ardent in faith, hope and love.”