To members of Regnum Christi
Dearest friends in Christ,
Today we begin with the whole Church the journey of Lent. It is a particularly suitable moment for personal conversion to the Gospel, expressed especially through the practice of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As is traditional in Regnum Christi, I wanted to write to you and share some reflections that can accompany you during this time of grace and salvation that God grants us in his providence.
This year the Sunday Lenten liturgy invites us in a special way to rediscover the gift of baptism, through which we have been grafted into Christ, the true vine, and enlightened with his light. In this letter I want to look at the passage about the blind man that will be proclaimed on the Fourth Sunday of Lent (John 9:1-41). I do not intend to exhaust the richness of this passage, but rather invite you to speak to the Lord about it in light of his Word.
In his Gospel, John presents Jesus Christ as the light that has come into this world (John 1:9), a light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5) and that enables us to see everything as God sees it. Jesus heals the blind man and makes him able to appreciate the beauty that is in the world, the variety of colors, to recognize the diversity in the face of each person and to read the emotions visible in their eyes. It is obvious that all of us also need to be enlightened by Christ. We need to ask him to open our eyes with the light of faith so we can discover his presence in ourselves, our neighbors and in each day of our history (see John 14:20, Matt 25:40, Matt 28:20).
The blind man trusts Christ who sends him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. He does what Jesus tells him and washes himself. He returns able to see, to the point of recognizing the one who has healed him as the Savior of the world. Jesus also invites each of us to trust in his Word, his Gospel criteria, his love and his mercy so that we can see reality with his eyes and his heart.
At the end of the Gospel of John, we find a touching passage in which there is an echo of the healing of the man blind from birth. The eyes of the beloved disciple himself are opened (John 21:1-14). The risen Lord stands by the lake and asks the disciples if they have caught something. He invites them to cast their nets out to the right. And suddenly, out of the blue, after only seeing a mysterious man who asks the typical question everyone puts to a fisherman, John exclaims: “It is the Lord!” (John 21, 7). What allows John to see beyond appearances and the ordinary elements in the scene? It is certainly the light of faith. This faith becomes charity, a desire to share with others what he has seen, what he has experienced (see 1 John 1:1-3). The Holy Spirit takes advantage of this seemingly insignificant gesture of John to touch the heart of Peter, who throws himself into the water to reach Jesus as soon as possible.
In our daily dealings with Jesus we can learn to see reality more deeply and discover the mysterious presence of God hidden within each event and each person. When we seek his face, we learn to recognize Jesus who identifies with each of our brothers and sisters, especially those most in need. For a member of Regnum Christi, as for any Christian, this experience of Jesus cannot be something he keeps for himself alone. Charity compels him to share it, to radiate Christ, because he is always an apostle.
In this Lent we should ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us so that we do not settle for a series of external practices, sacrifices and resolutions, which may be very good in themselves, but run the risk of not touching our heart or changing our life. Rather, we want him to open our eyes so that with the eyes of love we can penetrate more deeply and discover God acting in our lives. In faith we want to go beyond the surface appearances and the masks we use at times, consciously or unconsciously. We want to recognize Christ living in us as well as in our brothers and sisters, in those we like as much as in those who annoy or hurt us.
Only with a gaze like that of Christ, a gaze of faith and love, a gift from above, can we love Christ in our neighbors and rediscover that we too are children who are unconditionally loved. Let us approach Christ in these weeks of Lent with the confidence of the man born blind. Let us ask Christ to anoint our eyes and wash us with his Word and with the sacraments, so that he may be our light and we in turn may be light for the world. Let us ask for the grace of seeing God present and active in the Church and in the many people around us so we can love and serve him in them. Hopefully this Lent we can see each person as a gift that God is giving us, and in each of them see Christ speaking to us, loving us and inviting us to live as new men and women.
I include below the message of Pope Francis for this Lent. It will surely give you light for the season and could serve as a source of reflection for your family and teams.
Let us pray for the whole Movement, that the Lord grants us a new way of seeing, filled with faith and charity, so that we can discover and transmit his constant and merciful presence in the world. May the Virgin Mary, Queen of the Apostles, obtain this grace for the whole Regnum Christi family.
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Eduardo Robles Gil, LC
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS FOR LENT 2017
“The Word is a gift. Other persons are a gift.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God “with all their hearts” (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord. Jesus is the faithful friend who never abandons us. Even when we sin, he patiently awaits our return; by that patient expectation, he shows us his readiness to forgive (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).
Lent is a favorable season for deepening our spiritual life through the means of sanctification offered us by the Church: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. At the basis of everything is the word of God, which during this season we are invited to hear and ponder more deeply. I would now like to consider the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (cf. Luke 16:19-31). Let us find inspiration in this meaningful story, for it provides a key to understanding what we need to do in order to attain true happiness and eternal life. It exhorts us to sincere conversion.
- The other person is a gift
The parable begins by presenting its two main characters. The poor man is described in greater detail: he is wretched and lacks the strength even to stand. Lying before the door of the rich man, he fed on the crumbs falling from his table. His body is full of sores and dogs come to lick his wounds (see vv. 20-21). The picture is one of great misery; it portrays a man disgraced and pitiful.
The scene is even more dramatic if we consider that the poor man is called Lazarus: a name full of promise, which literally means God helps. This character is not anonymous. 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 (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).
Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. 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. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbor or an anonymous pauper. Lent is a favorable 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. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. 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.
- Sin blinds us
The parable is unsparing in its description of the contradictions associated with the rich man (see v. 19). Unlike poor Lazarus, he does not have a name; he is simply called “a rich man”. His opulence was seen in his extravagant and expensive robes. Purple cloth was even more precious than silver and gold, and was thus reserved to divinities (see Jer 10:9) and kings (see Judg 8:26), while fine linen gave one an almost sacred character. The man was clearly ostentatious about his wealth, and in the habit of displaying it daily: “He feasted sumptuously every day” (v. 19). In him we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and pride (cf. Homily, 20 September 2013).
The Apostle Paul tells us that “the love of money is the root of all evils” (1 Tim 6:10). 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 (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 55). 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.
The parable then shows that the rich man’s greed makes him vain. His personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what he can do. But his appearance masks an interior emptiness. His life is a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence (see ibid. 62).
The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride. 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 result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. 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: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money” (Matt 6:24).
- The Word is a gift
The Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus helps us to make a good preparation for the approach of Easter. The liturgy of Ash Wednesday invites us to an experience quite similar to that of the rich man. When the priest imposes the ashes on our heads, he repeats the words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. As it turned out, the rich man and the poor man both died, and the greater part of the parable takes place in the afterlife. The two characters suddenly discover that “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” (1 Tim 6:7).
We too see what happens in the afterlife. There the rich man speaks at length with Abraham, whom he calls “father” (Luke 16:24.27), as a sign that he belongs to God’s people. This detail makes his life appear all the more contradictory, for until this moment there had been no mention of his relation to God. In fact, there was no place for God in his life. His only god was himself.
The rich man recognizes Lazarus only amid the torments of the afterlife. He wants the poor man to alleviate his suffering with a drop of water. What he asks of Lazarus is similar to what he could have done but never did. Abraham tells him: “During your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus had his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony” (v. 25). In the afterlife, a kind of fairness is restored and life’s evils are balanced by good.
The parable goes on to offer a message for all Christians. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers, who are still alive. But Abraham answers: “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them” (v. 29). Countering the rich man’s objections, he adds: “If they will not listen either to Moses or to the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead” (v. 31).
The rich man’s real problem thus comes to the fore. At 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 neighbor. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. 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.
Dear friends, Lent is the favorable season for renewing our encounter with Christ, living in his word, in the sacraments and in our neighbor. The Lord, who overcame the deceptions of the Tempter during the forty days in the desert, shows us the path we must take. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can 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. I encourage all the faithful to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world, and thus to favor the culture of encounter in our one human family. Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter.
From the Vatican, October 18, 2016