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Lent 2017. Pope Francis: other persons “are never a nuisance”

In his Message for Lent Pope Francis draws inspiration from the parable of the rich man and of the poor Lazarus to remind us that the other person “is never a nuisance” and guard us against money becoming “a tyrannical idol” which can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic." The antidote is listening to the Word, which “helps us open our eyes to welcome life and to love it.”

One the one side we find “the corruption of sin”, dressed in purple cloth and fine linen, that “can dominate us” to the point of becoming “a tyrannical idol”: money. On the other side we find the face of other persons, who are always “a gift” and “never a nuisance”, even when they knock at our door. It’s the fresco depicted by Pope Francis in his Message for Lent – titled “The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift” –  which begins March 1st with the liturgy of Ash Wednesday. The message released today and presented at the Vatican Press Room, the parable of the rich man –who does not have a name – and of the poor man Lazarus, whose “features are clearly delineated” and with “his own story”, “helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life”, despite “his concrete condition as an outcast.”

The Message begins with an appeal to “Open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbour or an anonymous pauper.”

“Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift”, Francis writes, pointing out that “a right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value.” 
 “Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change”, and Lent is “favourable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ.” “Each of us meets people like this every day”, the Pope remarked with sound realism: “Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love”, and “the Word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable.”

But in order to do this, “we have to take seriously what the Gospel tells us about the rich man.” In the parable the poor man is “not an anonymous character. His features are clearly delineated and he appears as an individual with his own story. While practically invisible to the rich man, we see and know him as someone familiar. He becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast.”

The rich man is the figure we should all guard against, shunning all desires of emulation. In the rich man “is fulfilled the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride.” The In the Gospel parable unlike poor Lazarus, the rich man does not have a name”, he is simply called “the rich man.” “His opulence was seen in his extravagant and expensive robes”; he “was clearly ostentatious about his wealth, and in the habit of displaying it daily.” “In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin”, the Pope tells us, for ““the love of money is the root of all evils. It is the main cause of corruption and a source of envy, strife and suspicion.”

“Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol”, Francis warns. “Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity towards others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace.”

In these phrases reverberate other words crafted in an equally emphatic and incontrovertible manner in the first Messagge for Lent of the Pontificate, that dates back to 2014: the theme is poverty that “shows us how God works”, “it sums up God’s logic.” Francis stated in clear terms that “When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth.”

The portrait of “greed” that makes the rich man “vain”, contained in today’s Message, reminds us that when “personality finds expression in appearances”, that “appearance masks an interior emptiness”: the life of the rich man, as often happens for us, “is a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence.”

The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride.”: it’s the third stage of the “corruption of sin”: “The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal.”

“For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight.” The rich man does not see the poor man Lazarus, until the hereafter, because “there was no place for God in his life. His only god was himself.”

“The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness”, Francis remarked. “The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.” Looking at this character, “we can understand why the Gospel so bluntly condemns the love of money”: ““No one can be the slave of two masters. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money.”

“The rich man’s real problem, the root of all his ills, was the failure to heed God’s word.”” As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbour.”

In the final part of the Message, the Pope states in clear terms:

“When we close our heart to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters.”

Lent is the favourable season “to rediscover the gift of God’s word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need.” Possibly concretely expressed by sharing in “the Lenten Campaigns” promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world, to share the culture of the encounter.”


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