VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Lent is a time of conversion and a time to deepen one’s faith, demonstrating and sharing it through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, Pope Francis said.
“Faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit,” the pope said in his message for Lent, which begins Feb. 10 for Latin-rite Catholics.
Feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, welcoming strangers, offering instruction, giving comfort — “on such things will we be judged,” the pope wrote in the message, which was released at the Vatican Jan. 26.
Particularly during the Year of Mercy, he said, Catholics are called to recognize their own need for God’s mercy, the greatness of God’s love seen in the death and resurrection of Christ and the obligation to assist others by communicating God’s love and mercy through words and deeds.
“The root of all sin” is thinking that one is God, something often expressed in a total preoccupation for accumulating money and power, the pope wrote. And just as individuals can be tempted to think they have no need of God, social and political systems can run the same risk, ignoring both God and the real needs of human beings.
“Love alone is the answer to that yearning for infinite happiness,” Pope Francis wrote. It is the only response to the longings “that we think we can satisfy with the idols of knowledge, power and riches.”
“The danger always remains that by a constant refusal to open the doors of their hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor,” he said, “the proud, rich and powerful will end up condemning themselves and plunging into the eternal abyss of solitude which is hell.”
But through acts of mercy and charity, “by touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering,” he wrote, “sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need.”
“In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited,” he wrote. “In the spiritual works of mercy — counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer — we touch more directly our own sinfulness.”
In the Christian life, Pope Francis said, “the corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated.”
Cardinal Francesco Montenegro, president of Caritas Italy and head of the archdiocese that includes the Italian island of Lampedusa, told reporters at a Vatican news conference that the pope’s message, like the Bible, “does not stop simply at reaffirming that God is merciful, but clearly indicates that his children must be merciful, too, by living a greater love, especially by taking care of the little ones, the poor and defenseless.”
The cardinal said that from his own experience as archbishop of Agrigento, he has seen how people’s faith and joy have grown and become contagious when they not only go to Mass, but also volunteer to assist the thousands of migrants who land on Lampedusa’s shore seeking safety and a better life for their families.
Msgr. Giampietro Dal Toso, secretary of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the office that promotes and coordinates Catholic charity, told reporters that Pope Francis wants to help Catholics rediscover the traditional corporal and spiritual works of mercy, which seemed to have been left on the shelf with dusty old books. Maybe, he said, “it was no longer fashionable” to preach about the daily actions of believers or maybe “our ecclesial practice has become quite institutionalized and politicized.”
“The works of mercy are a very simple, concrete, direct, alive, daily, easy, accessible-to-all way of living the Jubilee of Mercy,” he said. “The works of mercy describe what we as Christians can actually do every day, and that is why I find them so fascinating.”
As part of Cor Unum’s celebration of the Year of Mercy, he said, it has developed materials for a retreat day for people engaged in church charitable activity. The materials are online — www.corunumjubilaeum.va — and can be adapted for use by a group, a parish or a diocese.