Lent is upon us, and even though it started a little later than usual this year, WPI is a bit behind schedule in posting about it.
Yesterday evening, Pope Francis and the officials of the curia began their annual Lenten retreat. Zenit reports:
The meditations are presented by Abbot Bernardo Francesco Maria Gianni, O.S.B., Oliv., of the Abbey of San Miniato al Monte, and their theme will be: “The City of the Ardent Desires,” For Paschal Looks and Gestures in the Life of the World.
The Exercises will end on Friday, March 15. During the week of the Spiritual Exercises, all audiences are suspended, including the General Audience of Wednesday, March 13.
Catholic writer Austen Ivereigh noted on Twitter that this might be the “biggest reform” in the Curia of Francis’ papacy, noting:
This pope has brought in proper retreats — silent, contemplative, over many days — to church leaders: each year in Rome like this for Curial officials, or like the one he urged on US bishops in Jan. For many (most?) this is a novel experience.
Responding to a critic who suggested that silent retreats are nothing novel, Ivereigh added:
For the curia it is. That’s a fact. The annual ‘retreat’ before 2013 was one day at the Vatican, but they could pop back to their offices in between talks or make phone calls. They certainly didn’t go away for 5 days silent retreat: that is a Francis-era innovation.
Following the example of the Holy Father, I encourage all of our readers to make a commitment to spiritual growth, reflection, repentance, and personal conversion this Lent. Perhaps you can make a silent retreat (as I will in April), take part in a parish mission or day of reflection, set aside time for prayer or adoration, or even spend a quiet, distraction-free afternoon or two with the Lord. This is a season to ask forgiveness for sins, grow in virtue, share God’s mercy with others, and to experience personal conversion. It was during a parish Lenten mission years ago that I first asked the Holy Spirit to fill my heart — to free me and guide me to follow God’s will.
I also encourage you to read Pope Francis’ message for this Lent, on the theme, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Rom 8:19).
In it, Francis draws our attention to the destructive power of sin on ourselves, our neighbor, and on all of Creation:
The root of all evil, as we know, is sin, which from its first appearance has disrupted our communion with God, with others and with creation itself, to which we are linked in a particular way by our body. This rupture of communion with God likewise undermines our harmonious relationship with the environment in which we are called to live, so that the garden has become a wilderness (cf. Gen 3:17-18). Sin leads man to consider himself the god of creation, to see himself as its absolute master and to use it, not for the purpose willed by the Creator but for his own interests, to the detriment of other creatures.
He also reminds us of the healing power of repentance and forgiveness:
This “eager longing”, this expectation of all creation, will be fulfilled in the revelation of the children of God, that is, when Christians and all people enter decisively into the “travail” that conversion entails. All creation is called, with us, to go forth “from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). Lent is a sacramental sign of this conversion. It invites Christians to embody the paschal mystery more deeply and concretely in their personal, family and social lives, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Francis continued his Lenten message on Ash Wednesday, in his homily at the Basilica of Santa Sabina:
Our thoughts often focus on transient things, which come and go. The small mark of ash, which we will receive, is a subtle yet real reminder that of the many things occupying our thoughts, that we chase after and worry about every day, nothing will remain. No matter how hard we work, we will take no wealth with us from this life. Earthly realities fade away like dust in the wind. Possessions are temporary, power passes, success wanes. The culture of appearance prevalent today, which persuades us to live for passing things, is a great deception. It is like a blaze: once ended, only ash remains. Lent is the time to free ourselves from the illusion of chasing after dust.
Where can we fix our gaze, then, throughout this Lenten journey? It is simple: upon the Crucified one. Jesus on the cross is life’s compass, which directs us to heaven. The poverty of the wood, the silence of the Lord, his loving self-emptying show us the necessity of a simpler life, free from anxiety about things. From the cross, Jesus teaches us the great courage involved in renunciation. We will never move forward if we are heavily weighed down. We need to free ourselves from the clutches of consumerism and the snares of selfishness, from always wanting more, from never being satisfied, and from a heart closed to the needs of the poor.
I wish all of you a blessed Lent. Remember to practice fasting, penance, and almsgiving. May your Lenten journey be one of conversion, repentance, and mercy.
Image: Adobe Stock
Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He’s a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He’s active in his parish and community. He is a founding editor for Where Peter Is.