My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, since Lent has now begun, I call attention to the Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for Lent 2017 entitled “The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift.”
The Word of God is a gift to us. In the Sacred Scripture, Jesus the Word Incarnate gives us the direction for Lent in works of fasting, prayer and almsgiving. To illustrate his point that “other persons” are also a gift, the Holy Father chooses to reflect on the parable of Lazarus. From the very beginning, we understand that Lazarus is a person whose name literally means, “God helps.” In fact, it is not a name; it just means a special person. The person in need was Lazarus who stood at the door of the house of a rich man begging for scraps, which came from his table. The rich man, totally unaware of the presence of Lazarus, ignored him for he was not a person to the rich man.
Our Holy Father tells us the essence of the parable, which shows that the rich man’s greed made him vain, when he says, “The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride. The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal.”
As it happens, the rich man dies and asks that someone could go from the afterworld and remind his brothers of his own fate, so that they can reform their lives. His request is refused because he is told they have prophets that even if someone should come from the dead they would not believe. How true it is, in our own time, that the hearts of many people are hardened to the misery around them and in the world at large. The fact is, someone has risen from the dead, and that person is Jesus Christ. He is the one who reminds us that every person is a child of God and that we are all brothers and sisters.
During this Lenten Season we have the opportunity to reflect on our own attitude towards others. This Lent, the issue of undocumented aliens and their treatment by our new administration perhaps needs our spiritual reflection. There are some who would agree that the harsh treatment and fear being engendered among all immigrants is not justified for the ordinary undocumented workers and their families who come seeking a new life in the United States. These workers must be treated as persons, not as lawbreakers. There should not be sympathy for hardened criminals. The undocumented are like Lazarus, people begging for the scraps from the master’s table.
During Lent, there are many other categories of people who perhaps in some way we choose not to treat as real persons with real names, and real ministries. This type of reflection truly brings us to understand what prayer, fasting and almsgiving are all about in our daily lives.
We are called to pray and resist temptation as Jesus teaches us at the beginning of Lent, undergoing His own temptations similar to all of the temptations we experience in life: pride, sexuality, and self concern.
We are called to fast, that is to deprive ourselves of something good so that we can find something greater in our lives, be it food, some entertainment or something else that seems pleasurable to us. Depriving ourselves makes us stronger in faith.
Finally, we are called to give alms. We must give alms, not in some impersonal way, but we must intend that our alms reach other persons, other children of God, other brothers and sisters in Christ. As the Lord has reminded us, he does not demand sacrifice, but our willingness to give ourselves to others and to God.
As we put out into the deep, 40 days of Lent on the journey to the Easter Mystery, we take to heart the words of our Holy Father in his Lenten message, “May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.”