Wondering What to Give Up for Lent? Try Indifference, Pope Says

A ‘selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference,’ the Holy Father said in his annual message for Lent.

Pope Francis celebrates New Year's Day Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.
Pope Francis celebrates New Year's Day Mass for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. (photo: CNA/Bohumil Petrik)

VATICAN CITY — The “globalization of indifference” was at the heart of Pope Francis’ Lenten message, in which he urged the faithful to fight individualism with merciful hearts that are more attentive to the needs of others.

Jesus “is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us,” the Pope noted in the Jan. 27-released Lenten message, saying that, oftentimes, when we life a healthy and comfortable lifestyle, “we forget about others.”

“We are unconcerned with their problems, their sufferings and the injustices they endure. ... Our heart grows cold,” he observed, saying that this “selfish attitude of indifference has taken on global proportions, to the extent that we can speak of a globalization of indifference.”

The Holy Father’s message, titled after the biblical passage “Make Your Hearts Firm” from 1 James 5:8, was given as a precursor for the start of the Church’s Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Lent, he said, is a time of grace, in which we encounter the love of the Lord, who first served us through his life and the washing of the disciples’ feet before his passion and, ultimately, in his sacrificial death on the cross.

“God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his Son for our salvation,” the Pope explained, saying that one of the most “urgent challenges” of today’s world, and the one to which he dedicated his Lenten message, “is precisely the globalization of indifference.”

This “globalization of indifference” is a reality that Christians must confront by going outside of themselves, he said, and he highlighted three biblical passages he said would help to resist the temptation to withdraw and remain closed inside.

“If one member suffers, all suffer together,” from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, reminds us of the Church, the Pope explained, saying that the love of God breaks through the barriers of indifference we frequently put up.

“But we can only bear witness to what we ourselves have experienced,” he said, and he encouraged the faithful to turn to the sacraments during Lent — particularly the Eucharist — in order to better imitate the Lord.

During Mass, “we become what we receive: the body of Christ. In this body, there is no room for the indifference that so often seems to possess our hearts,” the Pope explained.

He then pointed to the verse in Genesis Chapter 4 when God asks Cain: “Where is your brother?” This passage, he said, is representative of the various parishes and Christian communities around the world.

“Do these ecclesial structures enable us to experience being part of one body, a body that receives and shares what God wishes to give? Or do we take refuge in a universal love that would embrace the whole world, while failing to see Lazarus sitting before our closed doors?” the Holy Father asked.

In order to both receive what God gives to us and make it bear fruit in our communities, we need to go beyond the boundaries of the physical Church, the Pope said, noting that this is first done through our prayers to the saints in heaven, who intercede for us with joy.

Secondly, a particular parish or community can cross these boundaries by engaging “in the life of the greater society of which it is a part, especially with the poor and those who are far away [from God].”

The Church is “missionary by her very nature,” he said, and he commissioned parishes and communities not to remain self-enclosed, but to go out to every nation and people, so that they become “islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference.”

Pope Francis then pointed to the biblical verse in James, “Make your hearts firm,” from which the title of his message is taken, saying that it speaks to the temptation for individual Christians to become indifferent.

“Flooded with news reports and troubling images of human suffering, we often feel our complete inability to help,” he observed.

Both praying together as a community and performing small acts of charity are concrete ways that can prevent us from getting “caught up in this spiral of distress and powerlessness,” the Pope explained.

He then drew attention to the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. Set to take place March 13-14, in the middle of Lent, confessions will be available for the entire 24-hour period.

The Pope, who is set to preside over a penitential liturgy for the event, expressed his hope that it “will be observed throughout the Church, also at the diocesan level, [as] a sign of this need for prayer.”

Also noting the importance of conversion, the Holy Father said that seeing the suffering of others inevitably reminds us of our dependency on God, as well as on our brothers and sisters, and encouraged all to ask for God’s grace in accepting their limitations.

If we do this, he said, “we will trust in the infinite possibilities that God’s love holds out to us, [and] we will also be able to resist the temptation of thinking that by our own efforts we can save the world and ourselves.”

Pope Francis concluded his message by praying that, during Lent, each person receives “a heart that is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart that is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference.”