Lenten Message 2008
"Almsgiving, According to the Gospel, Is Not Mere Philanthropy"
VATICAN CITY, JAN. 29, 2008- Here is the text of Benedict XVI's message
for Lent, dated Oct. 30 and released today by the Vatican.
Ash Wednesday is Feb. 6.
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MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI FOR LENT 2008
"Christ made Himself poor for you" (2 Cor 8,9)
Dear Brothers and Sisters!
1. 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" (Lk 16,13). Almsgiving helps us to
overcome this constant temptation, teaching us to respond to our
neighbor's needs and to share with others whatever we possess through
divine goodness. This is the aim of the special collections in favor 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. In
his Letters, Saint Paul speaks of this in regard to the collection for
the Jerusalem community (cf. 2 Cor 8-9; Rm 15, 25-27).
2. 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
neighbor. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, material
goods bear a social value, according to the principle of their
universal destination (cf. n. 2404)
In the Gospel, Jesus explicitly admonishes the one who possesses and
uses earthly riches only for self. In the face of the multitudes, who,
lacking everything, suffer hunger, the words of Saint John acquire the
tone of a ringing rebuke: "How does God's love abide in anyone who has
the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses
to help?" (1 Jn 3,17). 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.
3. The Gospel highlights a typical feature of Christian almsgiving: it
must be hidden: "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is
doing," Jesus asserts, "so that your alms may be done in secret" (Mt
6,3-4). Just a short while before, He said not to boast of one's own
good works so as not to risk being deprived of the heavenly reward (cf.
Mt 6,1-2). The disciple is to be concerned with God's greater glory.
Jesus warns: "In this way, let your light shine before others, so that
they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven"
(Mt 5,16). Everything, then, must be done for God's glory and not our
own. This understanding, dear brothers and sisters, must accompany
every gesture of help to our neighbor, avoiding that it becomes a means
to make ourselves the center of attention. If, in accomplishing a good
deed, we do not have as our goal God's glory and the real well being of
our brothers and sisters, looking rather for a return of personal
interest or simply of applause, we place ourselves outside of the
Gospel vision. 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 neighbor, in imitation of Jesus Christ, who, dying on the
cross, gave His entire self for us. How could we not thank God for the
many people who silently, far from the gaze of the media world,
fulfill, with this spirit, generous actions in support of one's
neighbor in difficulty? There is little use in giving one's personal
goods to others if it leads to a heart puffed up in vainglory: for this
reason, the one, who knows that God "sees in secret" and in secret will
reward, does not seek human recognition for works of mercy.
4. 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 (cf. Acts 20,35). When we
do things out of love, we express the truth of our being; indeed, we
have been created not for ourselves but for God and our brothers and
sisters (cf. 2 Cor 5,15). Every time when, for love of God, we share
our goods with our neighbor 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. Our Father in heaven rewards
our almsgiving with His joy. What is more: Saint Peter includes among
the spiritual fruits of almsgiving the forgiveness of sins: "Charity,"
he writes, "covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pt 4,8). As the Lenten
liturgy frequently repeats, God offers to us sinners the possibility of
being forgiven. The fact of sharing with the poor what we possess
disposes us to receive such a gift. In this moment, my thought turns to
those who realize the weight of the evil they have committed and,
precisely for this reason, feel far from God, fearful and almost
incapable of turning to Him. By drawing close to others through
almsgiving, we draw close to God; it can become an instrument for
authentic conversion and reconciliation with Him and our brothers.
5. Almsgiving teaches us the generosity of love. Saint Joseph Benedict
Cottolengo forthrightly recommends: "Never keep an account of the coins
you give, since this is what I always say: if, in giving alms, the left
hand is not to know what the right hand is doing, then the right hand,
too, should not know what it does itself" (Detti e pensieri, Edilibri,
n. 201). In this regard, all the more significant is the Gospel story
of the widow who, out of her poverty, cast into the Temple treasury
"all she had to live on" (Mk 12,44). Her tiny and insignificant coin
becomes an eloquent symbol: this widow gives to God not out of her
abundance, not so much what she has, but what she is. Her entire self.
We find this moving passage inserted in the description of the days
that immediately precede Jesus' passion and death, who, as Saint Paul
writes, made Himself poor to enrich us out of His poverty (cf. 2 Cor
8,9); 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 a part of what we
possess, but our very selves. Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized
perhaps in the one commandment of love? The Lenten practice of
almsgiving thus becomes 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 value; it inspires various
forms of giving, according to the possibilities and conditions of each
6. Dear brothers and sisters, Lent invites us to "train ourselves"
spiritually, also through the practice of almsgiving, in order to grow
in charity and recognize in the poor Christ Himself. In the Acts of the
Apostles, we read that the Apostle Peter said to the cripple who was
begging alms at the Temple gate: "I have no silver or gold, but what I
have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, walk" (Acts
3,6). In giving alms, we offer something material, a sign of the
greater gift that we can impart to others through the announcement and
witness of Christ, in whose name is found true life. Let this time,
then, be marked by a personal and community effort of attachment to
Christ in order that we may be witnesses of His love. May Mary, Mother
and faithful Servant of the Lord, help believers to enter the
"spiritual battle" of Lent, armed with prayer, fasting and the practice
of almsgiving, so as to arrive at the celebration of the Easter Feasts,
renewed in spirit. With these wishes, I willingly impart to all my
From the Vatican, 30 October 2007
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
On the Lenten Journey
"A Spiritual Retreat That Lasts 40 Days"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 6, 2008 - Here is a translation of the address
Benedict XVI delivered today, Ash Wednesday, at the general audience in
Paul VI Hall.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin again our Lenten journey as we do every
year, with a more intense spirit of prayer and reflection, of penance
and of fasting. We are entering into a very "intense" liturgical season
that, while preparing us for the celebration of Easter -- the heart of
the Church calendar and of our very existence -- invites us, or we
could say, provokes us, to push forward in our Christian lives.
Since our commitments and our worries keep us living the same routine,
putting us at risk of forgetting just how extraordinary this adventure
is that Christ has involved us in, we need to begin again each day with
the demanding itinerary of evangelical life, retreating within
ourselves through moments of reflection that regenerate our spirit.
With the ancient ritual of the imposition of the ashes, the Church
introduces Lent as a spiritual retreat that lasts 40 days.
In this way we enter into the atmosphere of Lent, which helps us
rediscover the gift of faith received at baptism and which encourages
us to approach the sacrament of reconciliation, placing our commitment
to conversion under the symbol of divine mercy. Originally in the early
Church, Lent was a privileged time given to those catechumens preparing
for the sacrament of baptism and of the Eucharist, which were
celebrated during the Easter Vigil. Lent was considered a time in which
one became Christian, but this did not happen in a single moment. It is
a long journey of conversion and renewal.
Those who had already been baptized joined with them in this journey
remembering the sacrament they had received and prepared to join again
with Christ in the joyous celebration of Easter. In this way, Easter
had and still retains today the feeling and character of a baptism, in
the sense that it keeps alive the understanding that being a Christian
is never a journey's end that is behind us, but a path that constantly
demands renewed effort.
Upon placing ashes on the faithful, the celebrant says: "Remember that
you are dust and to dust you shall return" (cf. Genesis 3:19), or he
repeats Jesus' exhortation: "Convert and believe in the Gospel" (cf.
Mark 1:15). Both practices recall the truth of human existence: We are
limited creatures, sinners constantly in need of penitence and
conversion. How important it is in our day and age to listen and
welcome such a call! When proclaiming his independence from God, the
contemporary man becomes his own slave and often finds himself
inconsolably alone. The invitation to convert is therefore a spur to
return to the arms of God, caring and merciful Father, to trust him, to
entrust oneself to him like adopted children, regenerated by his love.
Teaching with wisdom the Church reiterates that conversion is above all
a grace, a gift that opens the heart to God's infinite love. Through
his grace he anticipates our desire for conversion and supports our
efforts toward full adherence to his saving will. To convert means to
let Jesus win our hearts (cf. Philippians 3:12) and "to return" with
him to the Father.
Conversion therefore means to give oneself to the teachings of Jesus
and to obediently follow in his footprints. The words he uses to
explain how to be his true disciples are enlightening. After affirming
that "he who wants to save his own life will lose it; but he who will
lose his own life for me and the Gospel will save it." He adds: "To
what good can man earn the whole world, if he loses his own soul"?
Attainment of success, longing for prestige and search for comfort:
When these things absorb life entirely until they exclude God from
one's own horizon, do they really lead to happiness? Can there be true
happiness without God? Experience shows that we are not happy because
we satisfy material expectations. In truth, the sole delight that fills
a man's heart is the one that comes from God: We truly need this
infinite joy. Neither the daily worries, nor the difficulty of life can
cancel out the joy that comes from our friendship with God. At first
Jesus' invitation to take up our cross and follow him can seem hard and
against our wishes -- even mortifying because of our desire for
personal success. But if we look closer we discover that it is not like
that: The saints are proof that in the Cross of Christ, in the love
that is given renouncing self-possession, we find a profound serenity
that is the foundation of generous devotion to our brothers, especially
the poor and the needy. This gives us joy.
The Lenten walk to conversion, which we undertake today with the whole
Church, becomes the propitious occasion, "the favorable moment" (cf. 2
Corinthians 6:2) to yield ourselves once again to the hands of God and
to practice what Jesus continuously repeats to us: "If someone wants to
follow me he must renounce himself, take up his cross and follow me"
(Mark 8:34), and thus take the path of love and true happiness.
During Lent the Church, in keeping with the Gospel, proposes certain
specific duties which assist the faithful in this journey of inner
renewal: prayer, fasting and charity. This year, in the message for
Lent published a few days ago, I wanted to focus on "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
We are unfortunately aware of how deeply the desire for material riches
pervades modern society. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are taught not
to idolize earthly goods, but to use them to live and to help those who
are in need. In teaching us to be charitable, the Church teaches us to
address the needs of our neighbor, imitating Christ as noted by St.
Paul. He became poor to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Corinthians
8:9). "In His school" -- I discuss this in more detail in the message
for Lent -- "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 a
part of what we possess, but our very selves."
I continue: "Cannot the entire Gospel be summarized perhaps in the one
commandment of love? The Lenten practice of almsgiving thus becomes 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."
Dear brothers and sisters, we ask Mary, Mother of God and the Church,
to walk with us on the Lenten journey, to make it a journey of true
conversion. Let us be led by her and we will arrive -- profoundly
renewed -- at the celebration of the great mystery of the Easter of
Christ, the supreme revelation of God's merciful love.
A blessed Lent to all of you!
[Translation by Laura Leoncini]
[After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in six
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of our annual Lenten journey
of prayer and penance. In the early Church, Lent was the time when
catechumens prepared for Baptism, accompanied by the prayers of the
whole Christian community. Today, too, the Lenten season is a
privileged moment of conversion and spiritual renewal for the whole
Church. The rite of the imposition of ashes is a summons to return to
God and, in doing so, to discover authentic freedom and joy. Jesus
reminds us that only by "losing" our life will we truly "find" it. Our
ultimate fulfilment is found in God alone, who satisfies our deepest
longings. By taking up our cross and following the Lord, we experience
redemption, inner peace and loving solidarity with our brothers and
sisters. During Lent, in addition to prayer and fasting, the Church
invites us to practice almsgiving as an expression of our desire to
imitate Christ's own self-giving and his generous concern for others.
As we set out once again on this journey of spiritual renewal, may
Mary, Mother of the Church, guide us to a fruitful celebration of
Easter. A Blessed Lent to all of you!
This morning I am especially pleased to greet the delegation of
government leaders from Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan, and I offer my
prayerful good wishes for their efforts to promote reconciliation,
justice and peace in the region. My warm greeting and prayerful
encouragement also goes to the participants in the Graduate School of
the Bossey Ecumenical Institute. I thank the choir for their praise of
God in song. Upon all the English-speaking pilgrims, especially those
from England and the United States, I cordially invoke God's blessings
of joy and peace.
(c) Copyright 2008 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana