We are now in the midst of the Lenten liturgical period, introduced on Ash Wednesday in the emotional final public liturgy to be presided over by Benedict XVI.
The Pontiff’s annual Lenten Message was presented a few days before Lent started, by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the dicastery that oversees the Church’s charitable work.
To reflect further on the content of the message, ZENIT interviewed Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the council.
ZENIT: Why does the Pope say that the word charity or solidarity goes beyond simple humanitarian aid? In this connection, can a believer carry out his charitable work better if he has his faith present?
Cardinal Sarah: All the Church’s charitable activity must begin by listening to the Word of God and by prayer. We encounter Christ in prayer and we recognize him in the face of the poor whom we serve. In No. 1 of Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI reminds us that to be Christian is not an ethical decision or a great idea, but the encounter with an event, with a Person, who gives life a new horizon and a decisive orientation. Hence charity is read from the point of view of this encounter with Jesus, which gives to life a new and decisive stamp. Because of this, the Holy Father invites us not to reduce charitable work to a simple humanitarian or solidaristic act, given that to live charity is always a representing of the love of God.
Whoever lives charity, understood in the Christian sense, must begin from faith in the God of Jesus Christ, sent to give us his life for our salvation. Only the encounter with God in Christ is able to arouse love in believers and open their spirit to the other. Hence true charity is a consequences that stems from faith and acts in love. For a Christian, to live charity from the faith is the only way he has to embrace fully the needs of others.
ZENIT: What is the Pope referring to when he says that charity helps evangelization? And why must evangelization be considered, according to the Message, as the highest and integral promotion of the human person?
Cardinal Sarah: A charitable organization that begins from faith proclaims the Good News of the Kingdom of God. The believer who lives charity according to the Gospel, is always a witness of His love; he makes the love of God present and concrete not only to his brother whom he supports in his need, but also to those he meets on his path. The Pope reminds us that evangelization must be considered the greatest work of charity, as there is no more beneficial and hence charitable action toward others, than to break the bread of the Good News of the Gospel, inserting it in the relationship of friendship with God. The man who encounters God is totally embraced in his humanity. By presenting the Word of God, man is given the possibility of true integral promotion. Jesus alone saves what is fully human. Hence, the true act of charity consists in taking Him to others, the eternal Word who comes from the Father, the only way that leads to truth and life.
ZENIT: How are faith and hope nourished in a world where people are so ambitious for power? Will fasting, penance and almsgiving help to increase faith?
Cardinal Sarah: Man is never abandoned to himself. Through the Church’s proposal we are helped to remain faithful to our baptismal journey. Therefore, Lent is a great opportunity for all believers to increase their faith and to live in a reality that is often made up of trials and snares.
The greatest temptations each one has are those of being independent, of fulfilling oneself on one’s own, of having the necessary power to do without God. They are the same temptations that Jesus had in the desert after having fasted for 40 days. His fast did not weaken the Son of God, but made him more conscious of his mission and his filiation. That is why the concrete indications of fasting, penance and almsgiving that we are given for Lent are a great opportunity for all Christians to grow in the faith and to walk with joy in the way of the Commandments.
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On the Net:
Benedict XVI’s 2013 Lent Message: www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/lent/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20121015_lent-2013_en.html
ZENIT published a further portion of this interview on Feb. 13: www.zenit.org/en/articles/president-of-cor-unum-comments-on-pope-s-lent-message