Benedict XVI's message for Lent (2010)

The message has as its theme: "The Justice of God Has Been Manifested Through Faith in Jesus Christ."

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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 recognises 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 recognises 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 Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 30 October 2009



Hans-Gert Pöttering on Papal Lenten Message
"Solidarity Is Not Abstract, It Has to Be Concrete"

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 4, 2010 - Here is the address given today by Hans-Gert Pöttering, retired president of the European Parliament and president of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, at the press conference that presented Benedict XVI's message for Lent.

The Pope's message has as its theme: "The Justice of God Has Been Manifested Through Faith in Jesus Christ." Lent begins Feb. 17.

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It is good that through the message of the Holy Father the Church illuminates for us the spiritual context of the Lenten Season. For us Christians, the reasons for and the mission of the Lenten Season are encompassed in this impressive theological interpretation: to work in union with our Creator on our responsibility in the world. I as a Politician can in no way even attempt to be as profound as the Holy Father when He talks about the religious vision of justice. In all modesty I would, however, like to comply with the request made of me to reflect with you on several political implications of the Christian lesson of justice.

The topic is as old as philosophising about politics itself is. And it is more relevant than ever before in our contemporary world of globalisation and the encounter between cultures and religions. In political philosophy, one likes to start with a retrospective on the two central figures of the Antiquity, Plato and Aristotle. Already in their works, we find aspects of the understanding of justice that the Holy Father has called the internal and the external understanding of human justice. Plato regarded justice as an unchangeable, transcendent idea of which the soul of the singular human being is a part of. Aristotle underlined that justice is not only an inner virtue but always also has to be seen with regard to others. The political reflections that we name today "corrective justice" and "distributive justice" correspond to this idea of intersubjectivity. The father of our church Thomas Aquinas also has a considerable share in this interpretation of the idea of justice. The Holy Father has indicated that a secularly radicalised form of the idea of distributive justice that is decoupled from faith in God becomes ideological. As a politician, I would like to add: We have experienced in collapsed socialism where this thinking can lead to.

Hence, it is of importance also for a political consideration of justice to keep the balance between the idea of justice that slumbers in the soul of every human being and the material reality that can always only be thought of in relation to others, towards our fellow men and towards the system we live in.

We have experienced again and again in the past two centuries in Europe and in other parts of the world to what extent this balance can get mixed up. Freedom and equality have continuously been placed in opposition to each other since the French Revolution inscribed these two postulates on its flag. However, in the course of the struggle towards freedom and equality, the third idea written on the flags of the French Revolution has been neglected: fraternity. Politically, we speak of "solidarity". Theologically, we have always spoken of charity. In these words - charity, solidarity, fraternity - lie the key to a true understanding of the responsibility of Christians in the world - an understanding, that is appropriate to our time of globalization. Solidarity or charity implies the responsibility to defend and protect the universal dignity of any human being anywhere in the world under any circumstances.

If we want to preserve freedom and if we want to increase justice, then we have to place the value of fraternity or solidarity at the centre of our political thinking. In the European Union, we have achieved a unique political wonder in the spirit of solidarity, that hardly anybody would have considered possible at the end of the Second World War. With the reunification of Europe after the end of the Cold War, we have proven ourselves with the principle of solidarity evident between the states and the peoples of the old and the new European Union. Lately, the joint measures taken to combat the financial crisis have shown that a common way of thinking and a joint policy are possible in the European Union.

Nevertheless, the power of solidarity has rather faded inside Europe since reunification. Regarding our relations with the other peoples of the earth, especially with the poorest among them, the idea of solidarity is at best in the fledging stages. Whereas Europe and the world have already invested unimaginable sums for the fight against the financial crisis, the implementation of charity leaves much to be desired, especially in the fight against hunger in the world. The determination with which Europe and the world have reacted to the financial crisis shows that international cooperation can overcome huge challenges. A similar firmness is equally necessary in the fight against worldwide poverty. Europe and the international community have a moral obligation to take further responsibility. 2010 as the "European year for combating poverty and social exclusion" offers the ideal framework for a stronger and effective dedication of the European Union to do more for the poorest of the planet.

It is exactly here that politics has to adopt the Lenten Message of the Holy Father: we need again a European spirit of solidarity. And, more than ever, we need a European spirit of solidarity with all peoples and cultures of this one world. Those are the two most important social-ethical tasks that the European Union faces. This is not only about the provision of material means, although this is so important. In the first place, however, this is about a spiritual renewal that the European Union has to bring about: This is about approaching the tasks that we face in the spirit of solidarity and that we seize the possibilities that we possess in a comparatively rich and privileged Europe so that justice becomes a reality for as many people as possible. Where justice is experienced, the value of freedom is equally strengthened.

"Development is the new name for peace", that is how Pope Paul VI formulated it in 1967 in his Enzyklika „Populorum progressio". Today, I believe, we have to go a step further and say "solidarity is the new name for peace". In formulating this we bring freedom and equality again into a proper balance with solidarity. This is how the struggle for justice finds its deepest ethical root, the root of fraternity and, formulated in a Christian way, of charity. In this sense, I understand the purpose of the Holy Father and his interpretation of the 2010 Lenten Message in the spirit of justice.

Solidarity is not abstract, it has to be concrete. Today, we realise that rich countries are getting always richer and poor countries are getting always poorer. Two billion people live with less than 1.5 US-Dollars per day. It is not to be expected - as much as this would be desirable - that the rich countries will rapidly increase their development aid. Therefore, we also have to try new ways. The project "UNITAID" that is closely affiliated to the World Health Organisation of the United Nations aims at fighting HIV, Malaria, Tuberculosis and other illnesses in 93 of the poorest countries. A big part of the funding is raised by a small extra fee on airline tickets. Thanks to an extra charge of one or two US-Dollars per ticket, it was possible to collect a total amount of 1.5 billion US-Dollars in the participating 15 countries during the last three years and three months.

I would like to propose to extend this initiative to all countries and all airlines. Airline passengers can afford to pay this minor increase of the ticket price. With additional billions we could help ease the misery in the world.

On the other hand, I am deeply convinced that the task of global solidarity is not only a material concern. Justice and peace, redistribution and recognition will only exist between the peoples and states of this world if we act in solidarity and in brotherhood also in our dialogue on faith and the basis of our culture. In doing so, we will also talk about the understanding of justice that is inherent to the different cultures and religions. The Hebrew letter of Sedaqah, of which the Holy Father has spoken in his Lenten Message, also includes - if I understood correctly - the idea of fidelity towards one's community. This old Jewish idea can help us to rethink our sense of mutual obligations and about the right balance of rights and obligations. In Islam, the notion of justice is naturally derived from the Koran. Secular Europe will also experience, in the course of the interreligious and intercultural dialogue, that the notion of justice in other cultures is self-evidently influenced by religion. To a certain extent, this has also been the case with the Christian influence on the notion of justice and - by the way - also on the notion of freedom and solidarity. In many cases, we have forgotten the connection between religious justification and political ideas. It will do us good to rediscover the treasures of this tradition - also through intercultural and interreligious dialogue. This has nothing to do with fundamentalism, but a lot to do with the timeless pertinence of our own roots. Where the update of our cultural and religious roots succeeds, we will be able to make good policy with Christian responsibility - also in a mainly secular European Union.

Mutual respect in the intercultural dialogue does not mean to close one's eyes before insurmountable contrasts. However, we will only be able to stop fanaticism in the world of the 21st century if we deprive fanaticists, who want to change the world through violence, of the spiritual grounds on which they can manipulate many people of good will. We therefore need a sincere dialogue of solidarity between Christians and Muslims, between Christians and Jews. We need it between the privileged living in prosperity and material freedom and those living on the margins of the social and cultural existence that are excluded from economic growth and technological opportunities. We have to forge the idea of solidarity into a political project that invites us to have dialogue across the many barriers which separate our world today. Only solidarity can lead the way towards more freedom and justice for more and more people throughout the world.

Policy that acts out of the Christian understanding of the human being should never decrease ambition. The Holy Father has pointed us towards two essential conclusions of the Christian understanding of justice: To give up self-sufficiency and to accept our mission with humbleness. This is the compass for any policy that is committed to Christian responsibility - not only in the Lenten Season 2010 but far beyond in this 21st century with the huge tasks of shaping globalisation which lie ahead.