Pope's Lenten Message Focuses on Fraternal Correction

Cautions Against Masking Indifference as Respect for ‘Privacy’

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By Kathleen Naab

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 7, 2012 (Zenit.org).- If Scripture says that even the upright fall seven times — that is, everyone is weak and imperfect — then helping others and allowing them to help us see the whole truth about ourselves is a great service, according to Benedict XVI. In other words, «we must not remain silent before evil.»

This is part of the reflection the Pope is offering in his annual message for Lent, which was presented today by the Vatican. Lent begins this year on Feb. 22.

«In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness,» the message states.

The Holy Father draws his reflection from Hebrews 10:24: «Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.» 

He reflected on three elements of Christian life: concern for others, reciprocity (the idea that both individual’s sin and his good works affect the whole of the community, and he is likewise affected by the rest) and personal holiness.

Concern for others

«[T]he verb which introduces our exhortation [from Scripture] tells us to look at others, first of all at Jesus, to be concerned for one another, and not to remain isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters,» the Pontiff said. «All too often, however, our attitude is just the opposite: 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.»

The Pope clarified that this concern for others «entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual.»

Regarding indifference toward material need, the Holy Father asked: «What hinders this humane and loving gaze towards our brothers and sisters? 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.»

Turning then to the need to look out for others’ spiritual well-being, he added: «Here I would like to mention an aspect of the Christian life, which I believe has been quite forgotten: fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation. Today, in general, we are very sensitive to the idea of charity and caring about the physical and material well-being of others, but almost completely silent about our spiritual responsibility towards our brothers and sisters. […]

«The Scriptures tell us: ‘Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it.’ […] Christ himself commands us to admonish a brother who is committing a sin.»

«It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity,» Benedict XVI exhorted. «We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other. […]

«In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness. Scripture tells us that even ‘the upright falls seven times’ (Prov 24:16); all of us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). It is a great service, then, to help others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord’s ways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us.»

Reciprocity, walking together in holiness

The Pope went on to take up the other two points of his reflection, reciprocity, and walking together in holiness.

Regarding the former point, he recalled, «The Lord’s disciples, united with him through the Eucharist, live in a fellowship that binds them one to another as members of a single body. This means that the other is part of me, and that his or her life, his or her salvation, concern my own life and salvation. Here we touch upon a profound aspect of communion: our existence is related to that of others, for better or for worse. Both our sins and our acts of love have a social dimension.»

And regarding the last point, the Holy Father recalled that there is always «the temptation to become lukewarm, to quench the Spirit, to refuse to invest the talents we have received, for our own good and for the good of others.»

«The spiritual masters remind us that in the life of faith those who do not advance inevitably regress,» he reflected. «Dear brothers and sisters, let us accept the invitation, today as timely as ever, to aim for the ‘high standard of ordinary Christian living.'»

«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.»

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Full text: www.zenit.org/article-34255?l=english

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