Lent 2012: The other is part of me
- Created on Saturday, 25 February 2012 22:53
Each year the Pope gives the Church an orientation for Lent. This year’s is especially pertinent and practical: “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works” (Heb10:24). It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But so much in contemporary culture draws us into dispersion and isolation, as if we were all subject to the forces of an invisible centrifuge. How so?
Pope Benedict explains: “The verb which introduces our exhortation tells us to look at others, first of all at Jesus, to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters. All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for ‘privacy.’”
But he quickly counters: “Today too, the Lord’s voice summons all of us to be concerned for one another. Even today God asks us to be ‘guardians’ of our brothers and sisters (Gen 4:9), to establish relationships based on mutual consideration and attentiveness to the well-being, the integral well-being of others. The great commandment of love for one another demands that we acknowledge our responsibility towards those who, like ourselves, are creatures and children of God. Being brothers and sisters in humanity and, in many cases, also in the faith, should help us to recognize in others a true alter ego, infinitely loved by the Lord. If we cultivate this way of seeing others as our brothers and sisters, solidarity, justice, mercy and compassion will naturally well up in our hearts.”
Recognizing the other as “a true alter ego, infinitely loved by the Lord,” is sometimes very easy … and yet at times it can be quite challenging, even impossible without the grace and love of God. But he pours these into our hearts in abundance if we ask him!
The Pope says that “concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual.” The good, he says, is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion. Concern for others also means being aware of their needs. Scripture warns us of the danger of becoming hardened to the needs of others, of letting ourselves fall into “spiritual amnesia,” he says, which numbs us to the suffering of others.
The Good Samaritan
The Pope evokes two Gospel parables as examples of this hardening of heart: the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–32) and Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19). Both parables demonstrate the opposite of being concerned, of looking upon others with love and compassion as brothers and sisters. What is at the root of this disregard, the Pope asks? He says that often material riches and a sense of sufficiency are to blame. But so is the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else.
The Pope issues a fitting appeal for this first week of Lent: “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.” Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can become an opportunity for salvation and blessedness, the Pope concludes, for we will be able to understand the beatitude of those who mourn (Mt 5:5), those “who are capable of looking beyond themselves and feeling compassion for the suffering of others.”
Saint Jeanne Jugan
Benedict’s appeal leads me to our foundress, Saint Jeanne Jugan—for she was one who never allowed herself to be deaf to the cry of the poor. In fact, she allowed the poor to take over her personal space, her possessions, her heart and her entire life. We know that at the origin of this complete self-forgetfulness was her profound humility and poverty of spirit. As we journey through Lent, Saint Jeanne Jugan can accompany us and teach us how to have true concern for others, to see them as our brothers and sisters and to reach out in response to their needs.
If you are reading this blog no doubt you are someone who has already discovered our holy foundress and who shares her heartfelt concern for others. Thank you for your interest and support! May you experience the beatitude of those capable of looking beyond themselves to respond compassionately to the suffering of others.
To read the complete text of Pope Benedict's Lenten message CLICK HERE.