March 4, 2022

Christ the Cornerstone

This Lent, embrace the greater good that God wants for us

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

Three fundamental themes are reflected in Pope Francis’ message for Lent 2022. These Lenten themes speak powerfully to the challenges and opportunities of our time.

The first theme is obedience. We ordinarily think of obedience in terms of “following orders” or obeying rules set down by a higher authority, but the fullest, spiritual meaning of this term suggests “openness” or “docility.”

When we freely set aside our own will, our desires, and even our perceived rights, we are being obedient. We do this out of love and respect for others, because we trust that those who are in positions of authority have the common good in mind when they establish the laws and regulations we are asked to obey.

Being obedient to God’s will requires openness, trust and love. We must surrender our selfish interests and embrace the greater good that God has in mind for us. This requires prayerful listening with a heart that is pure and uncluttered. “This brings us great joy,” Pope Francis says. “It summons us to become God’s co-workers” (1 Cor 3:9).

When we are truly obedient, letting go of our own will in deference to God’s will for us, we are free to live as children of God and as missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. This call to be obedient daughters and sons of our Father in heaven, made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit, “should not be seen as a burden,” the pope says, “but a grace whereby the Creator wishes us to be actively united with his own bountiful goodness.”

The second theme is conversion. Pope Francis describes the obstacles we face this way: “Bitter disagreement at shattered dreams, deep concern for the challenges ahead, and discouragement at the poverty of our resources, can make us tempted to seek refuge in self-centeredness and indifference to the suffering of others.” To break out of the prison of selfishness that we have built for ourselves, we must open our eyes and ears, and we must change our hearts.

This is what conversion means—to change our minds and hearts so that, as Pope Francis says, “life’s truth and beauty may be found not so much in possessing as in giving, not so much in accumulating as in sowing and sharing goodness.”

Truth and beauty are found not in closed communities surrounded by walls and barbed wire. They are found in openness to “the hidden power of goodness” which, as the pope teaches, “frees us from narrow self-interest, infuses our actions with gratuitousness, and makes us part of the magnificent horizon of God’s benevolent plan.”

Lent calls us to repentance and renewal. It invites us to let the Holy Spirit bring about a true conversion in the way we think, feel and act. Conversion means a radical change in our attitude—from selfishness to generous service of others.

The third Lenten theme is doing good. “Let us never grow tired of doing good,” St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, “for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all” (Gal 6:9-10).

Pope Francis’ 2022 Lenten message expands on this theme by adding:

  • Let us not grow tired of praying. 
  • Let us not grow tired of uprooting evil from our lives. 
  • Let us not grow tired of fighting concupiscence.
  • Let us not grow tired of doing good in active charity toward our neighbors.

During Lent, fasting and abstinence are important because they are forms of spiritual discipline that prepare us for the foretaste of joy that we will experience at Easter when we celebrate Christ’s resurrection and his decisive victory over sin and death. At the same time, “doing good” (active charity toward our neighbors) is also central to our observance of Lent.

The Benedictine monks of Saint Meinrad in southern Indiana have a time-honored Lenten tradition. Each monk writes down on a piece of paper the good works (bona opera in Latin) that he plans to do during the Lenten season. On Ash Wednesday, the abbot blesses all the good works that the monks have pledged to do during Lent. So, when we ask ourselves: “What should I give up for Lent this year?” perhaps we should add: “What good things am I going to do for others this Lent?”

Of course, obedience, conversion and doing good should always be an integral part of daily Christian living, but Lent is a time of heightened awareness.

This Lent, let’s use the readings, prayers and intentions offered to us by the Church to listen attentively to the word of God, deny ourselves, and perform acts of Christian charity in Jesus’ name. †

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