Regnum Christi | Legionaries of Christ

Message from Pope Francis for Lent 2024

The Holy Father invites us to keep in mind, in this time of prayer, that “the love of God and neighbor is one love.”

Dear brothers and sisters:

When our God reveals himself, he communicates freedom: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, from a place of slavery” ( Ex  20:2). This is how the Decalogue given to Moses on Mount Sinai opens. The people know well what exodus God is talking about; the experience of slavery is still imprinted on their flesh. He receives the ten words of the covenant in the desert as a path to freedom. We call them “commandments”, underlining the strength of the love with which God educates his people. The call to freedom is, indeed, a vigorous call. It is not exhausted in a single event, because it matures along the way.

In the same way that Israel in the desert still carries Egypt within itself – in fact, it often longs for the past and murmurs against heaven and against Moses – so today the people of God carry within themselves oppressive bonds that they must decide to leave. We realize this when we lack hope and wander through life as in a desolate wasteland, without a promised land to which we can head together.

Lent is the time of grace in which the desert once again becomes – as the prophet Hosea announces – the place of first love (cf.  Hos  2:16-17). God educates his people to abandon their slavery and experience the passage from death to life. Like a husband he draws us back to himself and whispers words of love into our hearts.

The exodus from slavery to freedom is not an abstract path. For our Lent to also be concrete, the first step is to want  to see reality . When in the burning bush the Lord drew Moses and spoke to him, he immediately revealed himself as a God who sees and above all hears: “I have seen the oppression of my people who are in Egypt, and I have heard their cries of pain, provoked by their foremen.

Yes, I know your sufferings very well. That is why I have come down to deliver him from the power of the Egyptians and to bring him up from that country to a fertile and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey” ( Ex  3:7-8). Also today the cry of so many oppressed brothers and sisters reaches heaven. Let’s ask ourselves: does it reach us too? Does it shake us? Does it move us? Many factors distance us from each other, denying the brotherhood that unites us from the beginning.

On my trip to Lampedusa, faced with the globalization of indifference, I posed two questions, which are increasingly relevant: “Where are you?” ( Gen  3:9) and “Where is your brother?” ( Gen  4,9). The Lenten path will be concrete if, upon listening to them again, we confess that we are still under the dominion of the Pharaoh. It is a domain that leaves us exhausted and makes us numb.

It is a growth model that divides us and steals our future; that has contaminated the land, air and water, but also souls. Because, although our liberation has already begun with baptism, an inexplicable longing for slavery remains within us. It is like an attraction towards the security of what has already been seen, to the detriment of freedom.

I would like to point out a detail of no small importance in the story of the Exodus: it is God who sees, who is moved and who liberates, it is not Israel who asks for it. The Pharaoh, in fact, destroys even dreams, steals the sky, makes a world in which dignity is trampled and authentic bonds denied, seem unchangeable.

That is, it manages to keep everything subject to it. Let’s ask ourselves: do I want a new world? Am I willing to break my commitments to the old man? The testimony of many brother bishops and a large number of those who work for peace and justice convinces me more and more that what must be denounced is a deficit of hope. It is an impediment to dreaming, a silent cry that reaches to heaven and moves the heart of God.

It is similar to that longing for slavery that paralyzes Israel in the desert, preventing it from moving forward. The exodus may be interrupted. Otherwise it would not be explained that a humanity that has reached the threshold of universal brotherhood and levels of scientific, technical, cultural and legal development, capable of guaranteeing the dignity of all, walks in the darkness of inequalities and conflicts.

God doesn’t get tired of us. Let us welcome Lent as the strong time in which his Word addresses us again: “I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of Egypt, from a place of slavery” (Ex 20:2 )  . It is time of conversion, time of freedom. Jesus himself, as we remember each year on the first Sunday of Lent, was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested for his freedom.

For forty days he will be before us and with us: he is the incarnate Son. Unlike Pharaoh, God does not want subjects, but children. The desert is the space in which our freedom can mature into a personal decision not to fall back into slavery. In Lent, we find new criteria of judgment and a community with which to embark on a path we have never traveled before.

This implies a struggle, which the book of Exodus and the temptations of Jesus in the desert clearly tell us. The lies of the  enemy are in fact opposed to the voice of God, who says: “You are my dearly beloved Son” ( Mk  1,11) and “you will have no other gods before me” ( Ex 20,3). Idols are more fearsome than Pharaoh; we could consider them as his voice in us. Feeling omnipotent, recognized by everyone, taking advantage over others: every human being feels the seduction of this lie deep inside. It’s a beaten path.

Therefore, we can become attached to money, to certain projects, ideas, objectives, to our position, to a tradition and even to some people. Those things, instead of driving us forward, will paralyze us. Instead of uniting us, they will confront us. There is, however, a new humanity, that of the small and humble who have not succumbed to the charm of lies. While idols render those who serve them mute, blind, deaf, immobile (cf.  Ps  115:8), the poor in spirit are immediately open and well disposed; They are a silent force of good that heals and sustains the world.

It is time to act, and in Lent to act is also to stop. Stop in prayer, to welcome the Word of God, and stop like the Samaritan, before the wounded brother. The love of God and neighbor is one love. Not having other gods is stopping before the presence of God, in the flesh of our neighbor. That is why prayer, almsgiving and fasting are not three independent exercises, but a single movement of opening, of emptying: away from the idols that overwhelm us, away from the attachments that imprison us. Then the atrophied and isolated heart will awaken.

Therefore, slow down and stop. The contemplative dimension of life, which Lent will make us rediscover, will mobilize new energies. In the presence of God we become sisters and brothers, we perceive others with new intensity; Instead of threats and enemies we find companions and traveling companions. This is God’s dream, the promised land to which we march when we leave slavery.

The synodal form of the Church, which in recent years we have been rediscovering and cultivating, suggests that Lent is also  a time of community decisions , of small and large decisions against the current, capable of changing the daily lives of people and the life of a person. neighborhood: purchasing habits, care for creation, inclusion of the invisible or the despised. I invite all Christian communities to do this: to offer their faithful moments to reflect on lifestyles; to take time to verify their presence in the neighborhood and their contribution to improving it.

Woe to us if Christian penance were like that which saddened Jesus. He also tells us: “Do not make a sad face, as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces so that it can be seen that they are fasting” ( Mt  6:16). Rather, let the joy be seen on the faces, let the fragrance of freedom be felt, let that love be released that makes all things new, starting with the smallest and closest. This can happen in every Christian community.

To the extent that this Lent is one of conversion, then lost humanity will feel a thrill of creativity; the glimmer of a new hope. I would like to say to you, like the young people I met in Lisbon last summer: “Search and risk, search and risk.

At this historical moment the challenges are enormous, the moans are painful—we are living through a third world war in pieces—but we embrace the risk of thinking that we are not in agony, but in birth; not at the end, but at the beginning of a great show. And it takes courage to think this” (  Speech to university students , August 3, 2023). It is the courage of conversion, of leaving slavery. Faith and charity go hand in hand with this little hope. They teach her to walk and, at the same time, she is the one who drags them forward.

I bless you all and your Lenten journey.

Rome, Saint John Lateran, December 3, 2023, I Sunday of Advent.


Image: Cathopic