On Shrove Tuesday the community here came together to reflect on the Pope’s Lenten Message. Little did we realise when we decided on this topic some weeks ago that we would be gathering a day after the Pope’s shock announcement of his resignation. So in our reflections the friars viewed the text as one of Pope Benedict’s last messages, one of his final words to us. Seen in that light we read the text even more closely!
For a man who has been portrayed so often as severe in his understanding of the Christian faith the message is wonderfully positive and attractive - “affirmative orthodoxy” at its best, emphasising what our Christian belief says yes to and rejoices in. Even though it is a “word” for the Lenten journey there is no mention of sin or evil. These realities are not denied, but our eyes are turned toward the light of God’s love, not to the darkness.
Recently I heard a priest share who had given some time to read the Pope’s writings and talks. Like so many he has a jaundiced view of the Pope so he was very surprised to discover just how positive and attractive his teachings were, and that joy (in the Lord, in believing, in the experience of grace, in service) was such a constant theme throughout.
In his final Lenten Message, Pope Benedict writes of how faith leads to love in action. But the origin of faith is the response “to the revelation of God’s gratuitous and ‘passionate’ love for us, fully revealed in Jesus Christ.” The Church is hopefully being formed by “people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love” serve their brothers and sisters. The time of Lent is meant to renew “the first and indispensable contact with the Divine” that makes us “fall in love with Love.” As we enter more and more into this dynamic of Love, “we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others.”
This message, one of Pope Benedict’s last to us, is well worth reading!