This Sunday’s liturgy (Lent I, Year B) puts the first and second readings in syntony with one another. The OT reading shows Noah and his family emerging from the waters of the flood to populate the earth. The second reading taken from 1 Peter 3 and the key link to the first reading is this:
… while God patiently waited in the days of Noah
during the building of the ark,
in which a few persons, eight in all,
were saved through water.
This prefigured baptism, which saves you now.
The people emerging from the waters is the hope of the world. A world that hopes to listen to the good news can only receive it from Christians who truly live their baptism.
Quite recently, I read the Pope’s Lenten message. At one point, he writes, citing Paul VI’s Populorum Progressio
As the antidote to such evil (unjust poverty), 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” . 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” . 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”. 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.
But the above can only be possible if there are more and more Christians who can witness with their lives to the proclamation of Truth revealed in Christ. This Sunday’s liturgy also points this out in the Gospel reading. The call to “Repent and believe in the Gospel” is an invitation to conform oneself to the Christ who presents himself as Servant to all, even at the cost of Suffering. When Benedict XVI invites us in his letter to be conformed to the gaze of Christ, he is actually echoing the words of John Paul II in 1995 who, when he stepped down on the tarmac of the Ninoy Aquino airport for World Youth Day 1995, said: “Look at your contemporaries with the eyes of Christ.” Christ’s gaze is a gaze of mercy and compassion.
To be conformed to that gaze should be our motivation during the season of Lent.
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.
The Lenten season prepares us for the season of Easter, that we may be able to appreciate more deeply our new status as children of God so that knowing who we are in the eyes of God, we may also be who we are called to be as His people in a world that wants to know Him.
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