In Jeffrey Morrow’s recent post, he suggests a prayerful reading of Pope Benedict XVI’s lenten message. I second that suggestion. The Holy Father’s words are touching, beautiful and enlightening. As somewhat a response to Morrow’s post, I have decided to write a brief, personal reflection over the text of the Pope’s lenten message. What I would like to do is develop this into a short series given each week of Lent. I propose this because the Holy Father, in his message, offers a theological synopsis of each Gospel reading on the given Lenten Sundays. Hence, he writes this message with a chronological, theological flow in mind. As best I can on a blog and with my limited theological knowledge, I want to reflect upon and follow the theology weekly. And I invite you, reader, to accompany me on the journey! Let us begin:
The Holy Father begins with an invitation to the Church: to intensify her journey in purifying the spirit, “so as to draw more abundantly from the Mystery of Redemption the new life in Christ the Lord”. Through this invitation, Benedict introduces Baptism, explaining that this life “was already bestowed upon us on the day of our Baptism, when we ‘become sharers in Christ’s death and Resurrection’, and there began for us ‘the joyful and exulting adventure of his disciples'”. After quoting from the writings of Paul, the Holy Father comes to a beautiful conclusion:
Hence, Baptism is not a rite from the past, but the encounter with Christ, which informs the entire existence of the baptized, imparting divine life and calling for sincere conversion; initiated and supported by Grace, it permits the baptized to reach the adult stature of Christ. (emphasis mine)
When we are baptized, we are thrown into the being of the Son, who is the “abundant life”. Therefore, the most authentic life of the “I” is never self-constructed. On the contrary, the self is most pure and mature when it is formed by the existence of the Divine Other. To separate the “self” from the Son is an ontological error that will indubitably lead to self-frustration.
But why does the Holy Father parallel Baptism with Lent? Because: “A particular connection binds Baptism to Lent as the favorable time to experience this saving Grace…[T]he Church has always associated the Easter Vigil with the celebration of Baptism: this Sacrament realizes the great mystery in which man dies to sin, is made a sharer in the new life of the Risen Christ and receives the same Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead (cf. Rm 8:11).” Benedict explains that this gift of grace must always be “rekindled in each one of us, and Lent offers us a path”.
Lent is a holy time to reintegrate one’s life with the life of Christ–to fast with Him, give with Him, and pray with Him. The love of God is infinite and how passionately He wants to hold each of us in palm of His hands, which “formed man out of the clay of the ground” (Gen 2:7). From Him our lives were molded: into Him the heart eagerly desires to ascend. And so He became one of us. How beautiful the story of God’s infinite love for His beloved creation!
At this moment, the Holy Father turns to the Gospel readings of Lent: “In order to undertake more seriously our journey towards Easter and prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord…what could be more appropriate than allowing ourselves to be guided by the Word of God?” (emphasis mine)
In a couple of days, the Church will celebrate the First Sunday of Lent, during which the Gospel
reveals our condition as human beings here on earth. The victorious battle against temptation, the starting point of Jesus’ mission, is an invitation to become aware of our fragility in order to accept the Grace that frees from sin and infuses new strength in Christ–the way, the truth and the life. It is a powerful reminder that Christian faith implies, following the example of Jesus and in union with him, a battle “against the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world” (Eph 6:12), in which the devil is at work and never tires–even today–of tempting whoever wishes to draw close to the Lord: Christ emerges victorious to open also our hearts to hope and guide us in overcoming the seductions of evil. (emphasis mine)
Benedict XVI articulates here the human condition: poverty. The human person is fragile, and ontologically in need of grace. Without Christ, there is no way for man to walk, no truth to embrace, and no life to experience. Any ideology without Christ, without the God of Love, is void of fulfillment or authentic meaning because it fails to truly accept the human heart in her condition of poverty. But with Christ, divine greatness offers itself to humanity. That is why Benedict stresses that to be Christian, one must follow Christ and be in union with Him. Most important, above all else the Christian is to conform oneself with Christ–be a son in the Son–who is the Incarnate Word of God: the very center of the Triune Divinity. In Him, does man taste the infinite good and beauty of God’s life, the supreme end of human hunger. Man’s poverty is redeemed by the Triune God’s divine excess of life and love.
Lastly, His Holiness exhibits a theme of “victory” in this synopsis of the Gospel. Christ is victorious and that is a cause for joy. He is the the shepherd who “feeds his flock…gathers the lambs… [in his arms, and] carrying them in his bosom…[he leads] the ewes with care” (Is 40:11). He is our hope. When, in every direction, temptation pulls human hearts away from their God, may all remember Jesus Christ, who has emerged victorious and is always willing and wanting to “open also our hearts to hope and guide us in overcoming the seductions of evil”. Followers of a victorious king, may we, His humble subjects, serve Him with joy, zeal and unbroken fidelity. There is something so much greater than sin, and it is Love. That alone is credible, satisfying, and infinite: all else trembles at His feet.
Praised be Jesus Christ!