VATICAN CITY — Lent is a time to free oneself from slavery and take action to free others suffering from the multiple forms of slavery that afflict the world, Pope Francis said.
Even though baptism has begun a process of liberation, “there remains in us an inexplicable longing for slavery. A kind of attraction to the security of familiar things, to the detriment of our freedom,” the pope said in his message for Lent, which begins Feb. 14 for Latin-rite Catholics.
Echoing the tragedy of the ancient Israelites, a modern-day Pharaoh “stifles dreams, blocks the view of heaven, makes it appear that this world, in which human dignity is trampled upon and authentic bonds are denied, can never change,” the pope wrote.
“We need to combat a deficit of hope that stifles dreams and the silent cry that reaches to heaven and moves the heart of God,” he wrote.
Released by the Vatican Feb. 1, the text of the pope’s Lenten message focused on God’s call to leave behind the bonds of slavery, with the title, “Through the Desert God Leads us to Freedom,” which is from the Book of Exodus (20:2).
God enables people to embark on a new journey and experience “a Passover from death to life,” the pope wrote.
“Even today we remain under the rule of Pharaoh. A rule that makes us weary and indifferent. A model of growth that divides and robs us of a future,” he said. “Earth, air and water are polluted, but so are our souls.”
And, he wrote, there are “the idols that we set up for ourselves,” such as a longing to be all-powerful, to be looked up to by all and to dominate others. “We can become attached to money, to certain projects, ideas or goals, to our position, to a tradition, even to certain individuals,” all of which only paralyzes people and creates conflict.
“Lent is a season of conversion, a time of freedom” during which Christians seek to rediscover God’s call and promise, he wrote. “It is time to act, and in Lent, to act also means to pause. To pause in prayer, in order to receive the word of God, to pause like the Samaritan in the presence of a wounded brother or sister.”
Through prayer, almsgiving and fasting, Christians experience “openness and self-emptying, in which we cast out the idols that weigh us down, the attachments that imprison us,” the pope wrote.
Pope Francis invited every Christian community to ask its members to “rethink their lifestyles” and to examine their role in society and the contribution they can make to its betterment.
The synodal Church looks for “communitarian decisions” that are “capable of altering the daily lives of individuals and entire neighborhoods, such as the ways we acquire goods, care for creation and strive to include those who go unseen or are looked down upon,” he said.
“Let us ask: Do I want a new world? Am I ready to leave behind my compromises with the old?” the pope wrote, inviting the faithful to “keep seeking and be ready to take risks.”
Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, presented the Lenten message at a Vatican news conference.
“Traditionally, Lent is a time to review our lives and to individually face the need for personal conversion,” he said. However, the pope is challenging the faithful also to seek to change the world.
As believers and as citizens, he said, Christians should ask, “Where are we on the journey with so many siblings at home and worldwide who cry out and ask us to walk with them?”
“By embracing the gift of Lent, every Christian community can accompany its members in facing the challenges of our time,” the cardinal said, because “the hoped-for changes in the world begin with change in me and in you.”