Pope Benedict XVI’s Message for Lent 2006 “Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity” (Mt 9:36)

28 Feb 2006


28 FEBRUARY 2006


“Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity” (Mt 9:36)

“In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of
the world’s population, indifference and self-centered isolation stand in
stark contrast to the “gaze” of Christ. Fasting and almsgiving, which, together
with prayer, the Church proposes in a special way during the Lenten Season,
are suitable means for us to become conformed to this “gaze” – Pope Benedict XVI

Lent begins tomorrow Ash Wednesday – 1 March 2006. The text of Pope Benedict XVI’s
Message for Lent follows. The theme of the Pope’s Message is “Jesus, at the sight
of the crowds, was moved with pity”

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Lent is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards Him Who is the fount of
mercy. It is a pilgrimage in which He Himself accompanies us through the desert
of our poverty, sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter. Even
in the “valley of darkness” of which the Psalmist speaks (Ps 23:4), while the tempter
prompts us to despair or to place a vain hope in the work of our own hands, God is
there to guard us and sustain us. Yes, even today the Lord hears the cry of the
multitudes longing for joy, peace, and love. As in every age, they feel abandoned.
Yet, even in the desolation of misery, loneliness, violence and hunger that
indiscriminately afflict children, adults, and the elderly, God does not allow
darkness to prevail. In fact, in the words of my beloved Predecessor, Pope John
Paul II, there is a “divine limit imposed upon evil”, namely, mercy (Memory and
Identity, pp. 19ff.). It is with these thoughts in mind that I have chosen as my
theme for this Message the Gospel text: “Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was
moved with pity” (Mt 9:36).

In this light, I would like to pause and reflect upon an issue much debated today:
the question of development. Even now, the compassionate “gaze” of Christ continues
to fall upon individuals and peoples. He watches them, knowing that the divine
“plan” includes their call to salvation. Jesus knows the perils that put this plan
at risk, and He is moved with pity for the crowds. He chooses to defend them from
the wolves even at the cost of His own life. The gaze of Jesus embraces individuals
and multitudes, and he brings them all before the Father, offering Himself as a
sacrifice of expiation.

Enlightened by this Paschal truth, the Church knows that if we are to promote
development in its fulness, our own “gaze” upon mankind has to be measured against
that of Christ. In fact, it is quite impossible to separate the response to people’s
material and social needs from the fulfilment of the profound desires of their hearts.
This has to be emphasized all the more in today’s rapidly changing world, in which
our responsibility towards the poor emerges with ever greater clarity and urgency.
My venerable Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, accurately described the scandal of
underdevelopment as an outrage against humanity. In this sense, in the Encyclical
Populorum Progressio, he denounced “the lack of material necessities for
those who are without the minimum essential for life, the moral deficiencies of
those who are mutilated by selfishness” and “oppressive social structures, whether
due to the abuses of ownership or to the abuses of power, to the exploitation of
workers or to unjust transactions” (ibid., 21). As the antidote to such evil,
Paul VI suggested not only “increased esteem for the dignity of others, the turning
towards the spirit of poverty, cooperation for the common good, the will and desire
for peace”, but also “the acknowledgement by man of supreme values, and of God, their
source and their finality” (ibid.). In this vein, the Pope went on to propose that,
finally and above all, there is “faith, a gift of God accepted by the good will of
man, and unity in the charity of Christ” (ibid.). Thus, the “gaze” of Christ upon
the crowd impels us to affirm the true content of this “complete humanism” that,
according to Paul VI, consists in the “fully-rounded development of the whole man
and of all men” (ibid., 42). For this reason, the primary contribution that the
Church offers to the development of mankind and peoples does not consist merely in
material means or technical solutions. Rather, it involves the proclamation of the
truth of Christ, Who educates consciences and teaches the authentic dignity of the
person and of work; it means the promotion of a culture that truly responds to all
the questions of humanity.

In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of the world’s
population, indifference and self-centered isolation stand in stark contrast to the
“gaze” of Christ. Fasting and almsgiving, which, together with prayer, the Church
proposes in a special way during the Lenten Season, are suitable means for us to
become conformed to this “gaze”. The examples of the saints and the long history
of the Church’s missionary activity provide invaluable indications of the most
effective ways to support development. Even in this era of global interdependence,
it is clear that no economic, social, or political project can replace that gift
of self to another through which charity is expressed. Those who act according
to the logic of the Gospel live the faith as friendship with God Incarnate and,
like Him, bear the burden of the material and spiritual needs of their neighbours.
They see it as an inexhaustible mystery, worthy of infinite care and attention.
They know that he who does not give God gives too little; as Blessed Teresa of
Calcutta frequently observed, the worst poverty is not to know Christ. Therefore,
we must help others to find God in the merciful face of Christ. Without this
perspective, civilization lacks a solid foundation.

Thanks to men and women obedient to the Holy Spirit, many forms of charitable
work intended to promote development have arisen in the Church: hospitals,
universities, professional formation schools, and small businesses. Such
initiatives demonstrate the genuine humanitarian concern of those moved by the
Gospel message, far in advance of other forms of social welfare. These charitable
activities point out the way to achieve a globalization that is focused upon the
true good of mankind and, hence, the path towards authentic peace. Moved like
Jesus with compassion for the crowds, the Church today considers it her duty to
ask political leaders and those with economic and financial power to promote
development based on respect for the dignity of every man and woman. An important
litmus test for the success of their efforts is religious liberty, understood not
simply as the freedom to proclaim and celebrate Christ, but also the opportunity
to contribute to the building of a world enlivened by charity. These efforts
have to include a recognition of the central role of authentic religious values
in responding to man’s deepest concerns, and in supplying the ethical motivation
for his personal and social responsibilities. These are the criteria by which
Christians should assess the political programmes of their leaders.

We cannot ignore the fact that many mistakes have been made in the course of
history by those who claimed to be disciples of Jesus. Very often, when having
to address grave problems, they have thought that they should first improve this
world and only afterwards turn their minds to the next. The temptation was to
believe that, in the face of urgent needs, the first imperative was to change
external structures. The consequence, for some, was that Christianity became a
kind of moralism, ‘believing’ was replaced with ‘doing’. Rightly, therefore,
my Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, observed: “The temptation
today is to reduce Christianity to merely human wisdom, a pseudo-science of
well-being. In our heavily secularized world, a ‘gradual secularization of
salvation’ has taken place, so that people strive for the good of man, but man
who is truncated…We know, however, that Jesus came to bring integral salvation”
(Redemptoris Missio, 11).

It is this integral salvation that Lent puts before us, pointing towards the
victory of Christ over every evil that oppresses us. In turning to the Divine
Master, in being converted to Him, in experiencing His mercy through the Sacrament
of Reconciliation, we will discover a “gaze” that searches us profoundly and gives
new life to the crowds and to each one of us. It restores trust to those who do
not succumb to scepticism, opening up before them the perspective of eternal
beatitude. Throughout history, even when hate seems to prevail, the luminous
testimony of His love is never lacking. To Mary, “the living fount of hope”
(Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, XXXIII, 12), we entrust our Lenten journey, so that
she may lead us to her Son. I commend to her in particular the multitudes who
suffer poverty and cry out for help, support, and understanding. With these
sentiments, I cordially impart to all of you a special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 29 September, 2005.


Further information:
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)