Pope: Live your faith during Lent, perform works of mercy

By Cindy Wooden

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

“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.

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The text of the pope’s message in English is available at: https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/lent/documents/papa-francesco_20151004_messaggio-quaresima2016.html

The text of the message in Spanish is here: https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/es/messages/lent/documents/papa-francesco_20151004_messaggio-quaresima2016.html

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