Just got back from a brief but wonderful visit and interview for Vatican Insider with Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, Kurdistan, Iraq. He and the other Chaldean bishops are in Rome for their ad limina visit. We first met in 2010 on a visit I paid to Kurdistan for 8 days, met again in July of that year when he was consecrated archbishop of Erbil, We’ve met many other times in Rome, and have shared a meal at my home with Abp. Amel Nona, formerly of Mosul and now in Australia, and the late Cardinal Francis George.
Abp. Warda came to the EWTN offices to do a segment for News Nightly and we then taped an interview for my weekend radio program. More about that later.
I met another prelate last night, Archbishop Gintaras Gausas of Vilnius, Lithuania. He was dining with a mutual friend of ours at a restaurant we frequent. We spoke ever so briefly – his English is wonderful because he was born in Washington D.C.! I went online to make sure how to spell his name and read this amazing fact about his family: His parents were separated by World War II and, after 16 years of being caught behind the Iron Curtain, his mother and 17-year-old sister were among just 200 families allowed to leave the Soviet Union to be reunited with family in the United States.
GROWING IN LOVE THROUGH PRAYER, FASTING AND ALMSGIVING
The Vatican today released Pope Francis’ Message for Lent 2018 whose title, as the Pope explains, comes from the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (24:12).
Francis starts the message by explaining that, “These words appear in Christ’s preaching about the end of time. They were spoken in Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, where the Lord’s passion would begin. In reply to a question of the disciples, Jesus foretells a great tribulation and describes a situation in which the community of believers might well find itself: amid great trials, false prophets would lead people astray and the love that is the core of the Gospel would grow cold in the hearts of many.”
In the section titled “False prophets,” Pope Francis says “let us try to understand the guise such false prophets can assume.”
He then explains how to discover false prophets:
“They can appear as ‘snake charmers’, who manipulate human emotions in order to enslave others and lead them where they would have them go. How many of God’s children are mesmerized by momentary pleasures, mistaking them for true happiness! How many men and women live entranced by the dream of wealth, which only makes them slaves to profit and petty interests! How many go through life believing that they are sufficient unto themselves, and end up entrapped by loneliness!
“False prophets can also be ‘charlatans’, who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless. How many young people are taken in by the panacea of drugs, of disposable relationships, of easy but dishonest gains! How many more are ensnared in a thoroughly ‘virtual’ existence, in which relationships appear quick and straightforward, only to prove meaningless! These swindlers, in peddling things that have no real value, rob people of all that is most precious: dignity, freedom and the ability to love. They appeal to our vanity, our trust in appearances, but in the end they only make fools of us. Nor should we be surprised. In order to confound the human heart, the devil, who is ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (Jn 8:44), has always presented evil as good, falsehood as truth. That is why each of us is called to peer into our heart to see if we are falling prey to the lies of these false prophets. We must learn to look closely, beneath the surface, and to recognize what leaves a good and lasting mark on our hearts, because it comes from God and is truly for our benefit.”
“What are the signs that indicate that our love is beginning to cool?” asks the Pope.
He answers: “More than anything else, what destroys charity is greed for money, ‘the root of all evil’ (1 Tim 6:10). The rejection of God and his peace soon follows; …. All this leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own ‘certainties’: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbour who does not live up to our expectations.”
The Pope points out that, “creation itself becomes a silent witness to this cooling of charity. The earth is poisoned by refuse, discarded out of carelessness or for self-interest. … The heavens, which in God’s plan, were created to sing His praises, are rent by engines raining down implements of death.”
Lastly, notes the Holy Father, “Love can also grow cold in our own communities.”
So, asks the Pope, “What are we to do?”
“The Church, our Mother and Teacher, along with the often bitter medicine of the truth, offers us in the Lenten season the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
“By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well.
“Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbour as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone. How I would like almsgiving to become a genuine style of life for each of us! How I would like us, as Christians, to follow the example of the Apostles and see in the sharing of our possessions a tangible witness of the communion that is ours in the Church!”
“Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure. On the other hand, it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”
Pope Francis extended his invitation to “all of you, men and women of good will, who are open to hearing God’s voice. Perhaps, like ourselves, you are disturbed by the spread of iniquity in the world, you are concerned about the chill that paralyzes hearts and actions, and you see a weakening in our sense of being members of the one human family. Join us, then, in raising our plea to God, in fasting, and in offering whatever you can to our brothers and sisters in need!”
The Holy Father urged “the members of the Church to take up the Lenten journey with enthusiasm, sustained by almsgiving, fasting and prayer. If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.
“One such moment of grace will be, again this year, the “24 Hours for the Lord” initiative, which invites the entire Church community to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation in the context of Eucharistic adoration. In 2018, inspired by the words of Psalm 130:4, “With you is forgiveness”, this will take place from Friday, 9 March to Saturday, 10 March. In each diocese, at least one church will remain open for twenty-four consecutive hours, offering an opportunity for both Eucharistic adoration and sacramental confession.
Francis ends his Lenten 2018 Message; “With affection and the promise of my prayers for all of you, I send you my blessing. Please do not forget to pray for me.”
FAITHFUL OF OTHER RELIGIONS INVITED TO JOIN DAY OF FAST AND PRAYER FOR PEACE
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue issued a communiqué today, underscoring Pope Francis’ invitation, made Sunday at the Angelus, to the faithful to join him on February 23 in a Special Day of Prayer and Fasting for Peace, in particular for the peoples of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
The communiqué noted that the Pope, in his Sunday announcement at the Angelus, also invited members of other religions to join in this initiative in whatever form they consider to be opportune. The Council for Interreligious Dialogue therefore stated today that, “aware that religions con contribute in a great way to obtaining and consolidating peace, we will be grateful to our brothers and sisters of other religions who wish to welcome this appeal and live moments of prayer, fasting and reflection according to their own tradition and in their places of worship.”