Made public [yesterday] was the 2008 Lenten Message of the Holy Father Benedict XVI. The text, dated 30 October 2007, has as its title a verse from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians: "Christ made Himself poor for you".
Extracts from the Message are given below:
"Each year, Lent offers us a providential opportunity to deepen the meaning and value of our Christian lives, and it stimulates us to rediscover the mercy of God so that we, in turn, become more merciful toward our brothers and sisters. In the Lenten period, the Church makes it her duty to propose some specific tasks that accompany the faithful concretely in this process of interior renewal: these are prayer, fasting and almsgiving. For this year's Lenten Message, I wish to spend some time reflecting on the practice of almsgiving, which represents a specific way to assist those in need and, at the same time, an exercise in self-denial to free us from attachment to worldly goods. The force of attraction to material riches and just how categorical our decision must be not to make of them an idol, Jesus confirms in a resolute way: 'You cannot serve God and mammon'.
"Almsgiving helps us to overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our neighbour's needs and to share with others whatever we possess through divine goodness. This is the aim of the special collections in favour of the poor, which are promoted during Lent in many parts of the world. In this way, inward cleansing is accompanied by a gesture of ecclesial communion, mirroring what already took place in the early Church.
"According to the teaching of the Gospel, we are not owners but rather administrators of the goods we possess: these, then, are not to be considered as our exclusive possession, but means through which the Lord calls each one of us to act as a steward of His providence for our neighbour".
"In the Gospel, Jesus explicitly admonishes the one who possesses and uses earthly riches only for self. … In those countries whose population is majority Christian, the call to share is even more urgent, since their responsibility toward the many who suffer poverty and abandonment is even greater. To come to their aid is a duty of justice even prior to being an act of charity.
"The Gospel highlights a typical feature of Christian almsgiving: it must be hidden. … This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany every gesture of help to our neighbour, avoiding that it becomes a means to make ourselves the centre of attention".
"In today's world of images, attentive vigilance is required, since this temptation is great. Almsgiving, according to the Gospel, is not mere philanthropy: rather it is a concrete expression of charity, a theological virtue that demands interior conversion to love of God and neighbour, in imitation of Jesus Christ".
"In inviting us to consider almsgiving with a more profound gaze that transcends the purely material dimension, Scripture teaches us that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. … Every time when, for love of God, we share our goods with our neighbour in need, we discover that the fullness of life comes from love and all is returned to us as a blessing in the form of peace, inner satisfaction and joy".
"What is more: St. Peter includes among the spiritual fruits of almsgiving the forgiveness of sins. … As the Lenten liturgy frequently repeats, God offers to us sinners the possibility of being forgiven. The fact of sharing what we possess with the poor disposes us to receive such a gift".
"Almsgiving teaches us the generosity of love. … In this regard, all the more significant is the Gospel story of the widow who, out of poverty, cast into the Temple treasury 'all she had to live on'".
We find this moving passage inserted in the description of the days that immediately precede Jesus' passion and death, who, as St. Paul writes, made Himself poor to enrich us out of His poverty; He gave His entire Self for us. Lent, also through the practice of almsgiving, inspires us to follow His example. In His school, we can learn to make of our lives a total gift; imitating Him, we are able to make ourselves available, not so much in giving part of what we possess, but our very selves. Cannot the entire Gospel be summarised perhaps in the one commandment of love? The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus become a means to deepen our Christian vocation. In gratuitously offering himself, the Christian bears witness that it is love and not material richness that determines the laws of his existence, Love, then, gives almsgiving its true value; it inspires various forms of giving, according to the possibilities and conditions of each person".