So, here's my reflection on Pope Benedict XVI's Message for Lent 2012 - you can find the full text here (I highly recommend reading it all!): http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/lent/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20111103_lent-2012_en.html
PBXVI's central message is based in this scripture verse:“Let us be concerned for each other,
to stir a response in love and good works” (Heb 10:24)
He starts by talking about true consideration for one another, and how we should aspire this Lenten season to a greater awareness of the needs of our brothers and sisters, and indeed a greater awareness that others are our brothers and sisters. He warns about the danger of indifference toward others, saying, "We should never be incapable of “showing mercy” towards those who suffer. Our hearts should never be so wrapped up in our affairs and problems that they fail to hear the cry of the poor. Humbleness of heart and the personal experience of suffering can awaken within us a sense of compassion and empathy." He goes on to say that, "Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters." This struck me as deeply true and relevant. It is fashionable and socially acceptable (especially during Lent) to be altruistic towards the more obviously less fortunate - to donate money to disaster causes and Church mission projects, to give away old clothes to shelters, etc. Altruism has even become trendy - like buying Tom's shoes! But how unfashionable and socially reprehensible is it to ask our friends about their prayer lives?; To say, hey, I haven't seen you at mass in a while, you doing okay? It isn't very common at all. But before you start thinking of images of misguided (but probably well intentioned) individuals shouting judgmental things from street corners about fire, brimstone and repentance, PBXVI goes on to say to something essential: "Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. " Ah, there's the catch - and the truth of it. We are called not to judge others to edify ourselves in self-righteousness, we are called to love others toward virtue - that is to love them so much that your desire to encourage them to virtue overrides your desire to be politically correct and not disturb the status quo or interfere. We should want our friends to be saints, and help them get there! Of course, this "fraternal correction" should go both ways. He continues saying, "Scripture tells us that even “the upright falls seven times” (Prov 24:16); all of us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). It is a great service, then, to help others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord’s ways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us." Thus, as we attempt, in humbleness and with the help of the Holy Spirit, to help others grow this Lent, we must be reciprocally open to the fraternal admonition that comes to us from others! However uncomfortable all this feels at first, it will bring us closer to "the whole truth about ourselves" - which is the same thing as saying closer to purity, humility, and sanctity.
Then PBXVI focuses on the reciprocal nature of our relationship with others as the Mystical Body of Christ. "The Lord’s disciples, united with him through the Eucharist, live in a fellowship that binds them one to another as members of a single body. This means that the other is part of me, and that his or her life, his or her salvation, concern my own life and salvation. Here we touch upon a profound aspect of communion: our existence is related to that of others, for better or for worse. Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension." You're probably familiar with the teaching that our sins affect others - that's why in Reconciliation the priest represents the community and as such channels God's mercy that we may reconciled again to the Body of Christ. But have you thought about how our "acts of love" also have a social dimension? This has been a huge motivator for me this Lent. When I really feel weak and tempted not to stay faithful to my Lenten sacrifices and resolutions, I think of my closest friends, and how they too are struggling for virtue, and I offer my sacrifice for them that my own efforts may give them strength and lift them up. And you know, it works. And it's true. My offerings raise them up, as their continual efforts make me stronger. We're that connected, that united. Maintaining our independent free will and uniqueness, we are also intimately connected in our striving for daily holiness. How powerful is that! We all need some type of this strong, personal, human bond to make it through.
At the close of his message, one last sentence really struck home, "The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress." Friends, this is an UPHILL climb!!! (Haven't we noticed that in these first few weeks of Lent??? ) If we don't stirve EVERY DAY, we will inevitably slide backwards. That can sound pretty dreary and flat out exhausting - and indeed it would be - except that each and EVERY DAY we can ask for the grace sufficient for each and every day...one day at a time, always upwards, always heavenwards.
PBXVI ends with this invitation, "Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the “high standard of ordinary Christian living...In a world which demands of Christians a renewed witness of love and fidelity to the Lord, may all of us feel the urgent need to anticipate one another in charity, service and good works (cf. Heb 6:10). This appeal is particularly pressing in this holy season of preparation for Easter. As I offer my prayerful good wishes for a blessed and fruitful Lenten period, I entrust all of you to the intercession of Mary Ever Virgin and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing."
So, there you have it. How are you doing so far? May our Mother Mary be with us in every step!!!!
Rachel Elisa Gardner Perez
P.S. Stay tuned for PBXVI's Message from the First Sunday of Lent! The Second Sunday still isn't translated into English, but that will follow soon too!!