Here is a translation of the Lenten message by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio for the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires. It was dated Feb. 13, one month before his election to the See of Peter as Pope Francis.
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To the priests, the consecrated and the laity of the Archdiocese,
Rend your hearts, not your garments;
Return now to the Lord your God,
Because He is compassionate and merciful,
Slow to anger and rich in mercy …
Little by little we get used to hearing and seeing, through the media, the black chronicle of contemporary society, presented almost with perverse enjoyment and we also get used to touching it and hearing it around us and in our own flesh. The drama is in the street, in the neighborhood, in our home, and, why not, in our heart. The suffering of the innocent and peaceful never ceases to hit us; contempt for the rights of the most fragile persons and peoples are not that foreign to us; the dominance of money with its demonic effects such as drugs, corruption, the trafficking of persons, including children, together with material and moral misery are the common currency. The destruction of fitting work, the painful emigrations and the lack of a future are also added to this symphony. Our errors and sins as Church are also not absent from this great panorama. The most personal egoisms are justified, and not because of this are they lesser, the lack of ethical values in a society that metastasizes in families, in the coexistence of neighborhoods, villages and cities, speak to us of our limitation, of our weakness and of our inability to transform this innumerable list of destructive realities.
The trap of impotence makes us think: Does it make sense to try to change this? Can we do anything in face of this situation? Is it worthwhile to try if the world continues its carnival dance disguising everything for a while? However, when the mask falls, the truth appears and, although for many it is anachronistic to say it, sin reappears, which wounds our flesh with all its destructive force, twisting the destinies of the world and of history.
Lent comes to us as a cry of truth and sure hope, which answers yes, that it is possible not to put on makeup and draw plastic smiles as if nothing is happening. Yes, it is possible that everything be made new and different because God continues to be “rich in kindness and mercy, always willing to forgive,” and He encourages us to begin again and again. Today we are again invited to undertake a paschal journey to Truth, a journey that includes the cross and renunciation, which will be uncomfortable but not sterile. We are invited to admit that something is not right in ourselves, in society and in the Church.to change, to turn around, to be converted.
Strong and challenging on this day are the words of the prophet Joel: Rend your hearts, not your garments: be converted to the Lord your God. It is an invitation to all peoples; no one is excluded.
Rend your hearts, not your garments, artificial penance without guarantees for the future.
Rend your hearts, not your garments, formal and fulfilled fast which continues to keep us satisfied.
Rend your hearts, not your garments, superficial and egoistic prayer which does not reach the depth of our life to allow it to be touched by God.
Rend your hearts to say with the Psalmist: “we have sinned.” “Sin is the wound of the soul: Oh poor wounded one, recognize your Physician! Show him the wounds of your guilt. And given that our secret thoughts are not hidden from Him, make him hear the groan of your heart. Move Him to compassion with your tears, with your insistence. Importune Him! May He hear your sighs, make your pain reach Him so that, in the end, He can say to you: The Lord has forgiven your sin” (Saint Gregory the Great). This is the reality of our human condition. This is the truth that can bring us closer to genuine reconciliation with God and with men. It is not about discrediting self-esteem but about penetrating the depth of our hearts and of assuming the mystery of suffering and pain which has bound us for centuries, thousands of years, always.
Rend your hearts, so that through that crack we can really look at ourselves.
Rend your hearts, open your hearts, because only in a broken and open heart can the merciful love of God enter, who loves and heals us.
Rend your hearts says the prophet, and Paul asks us almost on his knees “be reconciled with God.” To change one’s way of living is the sign and fruit of this broken and reconciled heart by a love that surpasses us.
This is the invitation, given the many wounds that harm us and that can lead us to the temptation of hardening us: Rend your hearts to experience in silent and serene prayer the gentleness of God’s tenderness.
Rend your hearts to be able to love with the love with which we are loved, to console with the consolation that consoles us and to share what we have received.
The liturgical time that the Church begins today is not only for us, but also for the transformation of our families, our communities, our Church, our homeland, of the whole world. They are forty days to be converted to the very holiness of God; to become collaborators who receive grace and the possibility to reconstruct human life so that every man will experience the salvation that Christ won for us with his Death and Resurrection.
Together with prayer and penance, as a sign of our faith in the strength of Easter which transforms everything, we also prepare to begin as in other years our “solidaristic Lenten gesture.” As Church in Buenos Aires that marches towards Easter and that believes that the Kingdom of God is possible, we need to have spring from our hearts, broken by the desire of conversion and love, the grace and effective gesture that will alleviate the sorrow of so many brothers who walk with us. “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great” (Saint John Chrysostom).
This Year of Faith we are living is also an opportunity that God gives us to grow and mature in our encounter with the Lord who makes Himself visible in the suffering face of so many youth without a future, in the trembling hands of the forgotten elderly and in the vacillating knees of so many families that continue to face life without finding anyone to support them.
I wish you a holy Lent, a penitential and fruitful Lent and, please, I ask you to pray for me. May Jesus bless you and the Holy Virgin look after you.
Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J.
Buenos Aires, February 13, 2013, Ash Wednesday[Translation by ZENIT]