And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil. (Joel 2:13)
Little by little we become accustomed to hearing and seeing, through the mass media, the dark chronicle of contemporary society, presented with an almost perverse elation, and also we become [desensitized] to touching it and feeling it all around us [even] in our own flesh. Drama plays out on the streets, in our neighborhoods, in our homes and — why not? — even in our own hearts. We live alongside a violence that kills, that destroys families, that enlivens wars and conflicts in so many countries of the world. We live with envy, hatred, slander, the mundane in our heart.
The suffering of the innocent and peaceable buffets us nonstop; the contempt for the rights of the most fragile of people and nations is not so distant from us; the tyrannical rule of money with its demonic effects, such as drugs, corruption, trafficking in people — even children — along with misery, both material and moral, are the coin of the realm [today]. The destruction of dignified work, painful emigrations and the lack of a future also join in this [tragic] symphony.
Our errors and sins as Church are not beyond this analysis. Rationalizing selfishnesses, does not diminish it, lack of ethical values within a society metastisizes in [our] families, in the environment of [our] neighborhoods, towns and cities, [this lack of ethical values] testifies to our limitations, to our weaknesses and to our incapacity to transform this innumerable list of destructive realities.
The trap of powerlessness makes us wonder: Does it make sense to try to change all this? Can we do anything against this? Is it worthwhile to try, if the world continues its carnival merriment, disguising all [this tragedy] for a little while? But, when the mask falls, the truth appears and, although to many it may sound anachronistic to say so, once again sin becomes apparent, sin that wounds our very flesh with all its destructive force, twisting the destinies of the world and of the history.
Lent is presented us as a shout of truth and certain hope that comes us to say “Yes, it is possible to not slap on makeup, and not draw plastic smiles as if nothing happened.” Yes, it is possible that all is made new and different because God remains “rich in kindness and mercy, always willing to forgive” and He encourages us to begin anew time and again. Today, again, we are invited to undertake a Paschal road toward Life, a path that includes the cross and resignation; a path that will be uncomfortable but not fruitless. We are invited to admit that something inside us is not going well, (in society or in the Church) to change, to turn around, to be converted.
Today, the words of the prophet Joel are strong and challenging: Rend your heart, not your clothing: be converted to the Lord, your God. These [words] are an invitation to all people, nobody is excluded.
Rend your heart, not the clothing of artificial penance without [an eternal] future.
Rend your heart, not the clothing of technical fasting of compliance that [only serves to keep us] satisfied.
Rend your heart, not the clothing of egotistical and superficial prayer that does not reach the inmost part of [your] life to allow it to be touched by God.
Rend your heart, that we may say with the Psalmist: “We have sinned.”
“The wound of the soul is sin: Oh, poor wounded one, recognize your Doctor! Show him the wounds of your faults. And, since from Him our most secret thoughts cannot hide themselves, make the cry of your heart felt [to Him]. Move him to compassion with your tears, with your insistence ¡beg him! Let Him hear your sighs, that your pain reaches Him so that, at the end, He can tell you: The Lord has forgiven your sins.” (St. Gregory the Great)
This is the reality of our human condition. This is the truth that approaches authentic reconciliation between God and men. This is not a matter of discrediting [one’s] self-worth but of penetrating, to its fullest depth, our heart ando take charge of the mystery of suffering and pain that had tied us down for centuries, for thousands of years, [in fact,] forever.
Rend your hearts so that through this opening we can truly see.
Rend your hearts, open your hearts, because only with [such a] heart can we allow the entry of the merciful love of the Father, who loves us and heals us.
Rend your hearts the prophet says, and Paul asks us — almost on his knees — “be reconciled with God.” Changing our way of living is both a sign and fruit of a torn heart, reconciled by a love that overwhelms us.
This is [God’s] invitation, juxtaposed against so many injuries that wound us and can tempt us temptation to be hardened: Rend your hearts to experience, in serene and silent prayer, the gentle tenderness of God.
Rend your hearts to hear the echo of so many torn lives, that indifference [to suffering] does not paralyze us.
Rend your hearts to be able to love with the love with which we are beloved, to console with the consolation with which we are consoled and to share what we have received.
The liturgical time the Church starts today is not only for us, but also for the transformation of our family, of our community, of our Church, of our Country, of the whole world. They are forty days so that we may convert to the same holiness as God’s; that we become collaborators who receive the grace and the potential to reconstruct human life so that everyone may experience the salvation which Christ won for us by His death and resurrection.
Next to prayer and penitence, as a sign of our faith in the force of an all-transforming Easter, we also begin, as in previous years a “Lenten Gesture of Solidarity.” As Church in Buenos Aires, marching towards Easter and believing the Kingdom of God is possible we need that, in our hearts torn by the desire of conversion and by love, grace may blossom. [We need] effective gestures to alleviate the pain of so many of our brothers who walk alongside. “No act of virtue can be large if it does not also benefit another… Therefore, no matter how you spend the day fasting, no matter how you may sleep on a hard floor, and how you may eat ashes and sigh continuously, if do not do good to others, you do not accomplish anything great.” (St. John Chrysostom)
This year of faith we are traversing is also an opportunity God gives us to grow and to mature in an encounter with the Lord made visible in the suffering face of so many children without a future, in the trembling hands of the elders who have been forgotten and in the trembling knees of so many families who continue to face life without finding anyone who will assist them.
I wish you a holy Lent, a penitential and fruitful Lent and, please, I ask you all that you pray for me.
May Jesus bless you and may the Blessed Virgin care for you.
Card. Jorge Mario Bergoglio S.J.