The Catholic Church must demonstrate the power of love and show the limitations of an individualistic worldview, Pope Benedict XVI taught in a Lenten message released two weeks before Ash Wednesday.
In the letter released Feb. 7, the Pope contrasted an ethic of “custody of others” with “a mentality that, by reducing life exclusively to its earthly dimension … accepts any moral choice in the name of personal freedom.”
A society with this mindset, he warned, “can become blind to physical sufferings and to the spiritual and moral demands of life. This must not be the case in the Christian community!”
The Pope’s message for Lent 2012, which begins Feb. 22, drew from the New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews, particularly the verse that proclaims, “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.”
“All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite,” Pope Benedict observed, describing “an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for ‘privacy.’”
“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, to establish relationships based on mutual consideration and attentiveness to the well-being, the integral well-being of others.”
He encouraged believers “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.”
But when this love and care for others diminishes, social and global problems correspondingly increase.
The Pope cited the words of his predecessor, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, who declared that the world was “sorely ill” with a sickness caused not by material factors, but by selfishness and “the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations.”
“Contemporary culture seems to have lost the sense of good and evil,” Pope Benedict said, as he warned about the danger of “a sort of ‘spiritual anesthesia’ which numbs us to the suffering of others.”
“What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters?” he asked.
“Often, it is the possession of material riches and a sense of sufficiency, but it can also be the tendency to put our own interests and problems above all else.”
“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.”
Yet even when the world’s love grows cold, goodness “does exist and will prevail, because God is ‘generous and acts generously’” through those who work on behalf of “life, brotherhood and communion.”
“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,” the Pope stated, as he called all believers to practice the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
“This is a favorable time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments. This journey is one marked by prayer and sharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter.”
All of these ancient practices are meant to help the faithful grow in charity, which Pope Benedict described as “the very heart of Christian life.”