Pope Benedict XVI- Message- Lent
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI FOR LENT 2010
February 4, 2010
Justice of God Has Been Manifested Through Faith in Jesus Christ"
(cf. Rm 3, 21-22)
Lent begins February 17.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Each year, on the occasion of Lent, the Church invites us to a
sincere review of our life in light of the teachings of the Gospel.
This year, I would like to offer you some reflections on the great
theme of justice, beginning from the Pauline affirmation: "The
justice of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ"
(cf. Rm 3, 21-22).
Justice: "dare cuique suum"
First of all, I want to consider the meaning of the term "justice,"
which in common usage implies "to render to every man his due,"
according to the famous expression of Ulpian, a Roman jurist of the
third century. In reality, however, this classical definition does
not specify what "due" is to be rendered to each person. What man
needs most cannot be guaranteed to him by law. In order to live life
to the full, something more intimate is necessary that can be
granted only as a gift: we could say that man lives by that love
which only God can communicate since He created the human person in
His image and likeness. Material goods are certainly useful and
required – indeed Jesus Himself was concerned to heal the sick, feed
the crowds that followed Him and surely condemns the indifference
that even today forces hundreds of millions into death through lack
of food, water and medicine – yet "distributive" justice does not
render to the human being the totality of his "due." Just as man
needs bread, so does man have even more need of God. Saint Augustine
notes: if "justice is that virtue which gives every one his due ...
where, then, is the justice of man, when he deserts the true God?"
(De civitate Dei, XIX, 21).
What is the Cause of Injustice?
The Evangelist Mark reports the following words of Jesus, which are
inserted within the debate at that time regarding what is pure and
impure: "There is nothing outside a man which by going into him can
defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile
him … What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from
within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts" (Mk 7, 14-15,
20-21). Beyond the immediate question concerning food, we can detect
in the reaction of the Pharisees a permanent temptation within man:
to situate the origin of evil in an exterior cause. Many modern
ideologies deep down have this presupposition: since injustice comes
"from outside," in order for justice to reign, it is sufficient to
remove the exterior causes that prevent it being achieved. This way
of thinking – Jesus warns – is ingenuous and shortsighted.
Injustice, the fruit of evil, does not have exclusively external
roots; its origin lies in the human heart, where the seeds are found
of a mysterious cooperation with evil. With bitterness the Psalmist
recognizes this: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in
sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps 51,7). Indeed, man is weakened by
an intense influence, which wounds his capacity to enter into
communion with the other.
By nature, he is open to sharing freely, but he finds in his being a
strange force of gravity that makes him turn in and affirm himself
above and against others: this is egoism, the result of original
sin. Adam and Eve, seduced by Satan’s lie, snatching the mysterious
fruit against the divine command, replaced the logic of trusting in
Love with that of suspicion and competition; the logic of receiving
and trustfully expecting from the Other with anxiously seizing and
doing on one’s own (cf. Gn 3, 1-6), experiencing, as a consequence,
a sense of disquiet and uncertainty. How can man free himself from
this selfish influence and open himself to love?
Justice and Sedaqah
At the heart of the wisdom of Israel, we find a profound link
between faith in God who "lifts the needy from the ash heap" (Ps
113,7) and justice towards one’s neighbor. The Hebrew word itself
that indicates the virtue of justice, sedaqah, expresses this well.
Sedaqah, in fact, signifies on the one hand full acceptance of the
will of the God of Israel; on the other hand, equity in relation to
one’s neighbour (cf. Ex 20, 12-17), especially the poor, the
stranger, the orphan and the widow (cf. Dt 10, 18-19). But the two
meanings are linked because giving to the poor for the Israelite is
none other than restoring what is owed to God, who had pity on the
misery of His people. It was not by chance that the gift to Moses of
the tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai took place after the crossing
of the Red Sea. Listening to the Law presupposes faith in God who
first "heard the cry" of His people and "came down to deliver them
out of hand of the Egyptians" (cf. Ex 3,8). God is attentive to the
cry of the poor and in return asks to be listened to: He asks for
justice towards the poor (cf. Sir 4,4-5, 8-9), the stranger (cf. Ex
22,20), the slave (cf. Dt 15, 12-18). In order to enter into
justice, it is thus necessary to leave that illusion of
self-sufficiency, the profound state of closure, which is the very
origin of injustice. In other words, what is needed is an even
deeper "exodus" than that accomplished by God with Moses, a
liberation of the heart, which the Law on its own is powerless to
realize. Does man have any hope of justice then?
Christ, the Justice of God
The Christian Good News responds positively to man’s thirst for
justice, as Saint Paul affirms in the Letter to the Romans: "But now
the justice of God has been manifested apart from law … the justice
of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there
is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory
of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the
redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an
expiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (3, 21-25).
What then is the justice of Christ? Above all, it is the justice
that comes from grace, where it is not man who makes amends, heals
himself and others. The fact that "expiation" flows from the "blood"
of Christ signifies that it is not man’s sacrifices that free him
from the weight of his faults, but the loving act of God who opens
Himself in the extreme, even to the point of bearing in Himself the
"curse" due to man so as to give in return the "blessing" due to God
(cf. Gal 3, 13-14). But this raises an immediate objection: what
kind of justice is this where the just man dies for the guilty and
the guilty receives in return the blessing due to the just one?
Would this not mean that each one receives the contrary of his
"due"? In reality, here we discover divine justice, which is so
profoundly different from its human counterpart. God has paid for us
the price of the exchange in His Son, a price that is truly
exorbitant. Before the justice of the Cross, man may rebel for this
reveals how man is not a self-sufficient being, but in need of
Another in order to realize himself fully. Conversion to Christ,
believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion
of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need –
the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His
friendship. So we understand how faith is altogether different from
a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to
accept that I need Another to free me from "what is mine," to give
me gratuitously "what is His." This happens especially in the
sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s
action, we may enter into the "greatest" justice, which is that of
love (cf. Rm 13, 8-10), the justice that recognizes itself in every
case more a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more
than could ever have been expected.
Strengthened by this very experience, the Christian is moved to
contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is
necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human
person and where justice is enlivened by love.
Dear brothers and sisters, Lent culminates in the Paschal Triduum,
in which this year, too, we shall celebrate divine justice – the
fullness of charity, gift, salvation. May this penitential season be
for every Christian a time of authentic conversion and intense
knowledge of the mystery of Christ, who came to fulfill every
justice. With these sentiments, I cordially impart to all of you my
Vatican, 30 October 2009
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
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