Papal Message for Lent 2005

"Loving the Lord ... Means Life to You, and Length of Days"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of John Paul II's Message for Lent 2005, published today by the Vatican.

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Message of His Holiness
John Paul II
For Lent 2005

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. Each year, the Lenten Season is set before us as a good opportunity for the intensification of prayer and penance, opening hearts to the docile welcoming of the divine will. During Lent, a spiritual journey is outlined for us that prepares us to relive the Great Mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Christ. This is done primarily by listening to the Word of God more devoutly and by practicing mortification more generously, thanks to which it is possible to render greater assistance to those in need.

This year, dear brothers and sisters, I wish to bring to your attention a theme which is rather current, well-illustrated by the following verse from Deuteronomy: "Loving the Lord ... means life to you, and length of days..." (30:20). These are the words that Moses directs to the people, inviting them to embrace the Covenant with Yahweh in the country of Moab, "that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord, your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him" (30:19-20). The fidelity to this divine Covenant is for Israel a guarantee of the future: "that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give to them" (30:20). According to the biblical understanding, reaching old age is a sign of the Most High's gracious benevolence. Longevity appears, therefore, as a special divine gift.

It is upon this theme that I would like to ask you to reflect during this Lent, in order to deepen the awareness of the role that the elderly are called to play in society and in the Church, and thus to prepare your hearts for the loving welcome that should always be reserved for them. Thanks to the contribution of science and medicine, one sees in society today a lengthening of the human life span and a subsequent increase in the number of elderly. This demands more specific attention to the world of so-called old age, in order to help its members to live their full potential by placing them at the service of the entire community. The care of the elderly, above all when they pass through difficult moments, must be of great concern to all the faithful, especially in the ecclesial communities of Western societies, where the problem is particularly present.

2. Human life is a precious gift to be loved and defended in each of its stages. The Commandment "You shall not kill!" always requires respecting and promoting human life, from its beginning to its natural end. It is a command that applies even in the presence of illness and when physical weakness reduces the person's ability to be self-reliant. If growing old, with its inevitable conditions, is accepted serenely in the light of faith, it can become an invaluable opportunity for better comprehending the Mystery of the Cross, which gives full sense to human existence.

The elderly need to be understood and helped in this perspective. I wish, here, to express my appreciation to those who dedicate themselves to fulfilling these needs, and I also call upon other people of good will to take advantage of Lent for making their own personal contribution. This will allow many elderly not to think of themselves as a burden to the community, and sometimes even to their own families, living in a situation of loneliness that leads to the temptation of isolating themselves or becoming discouraged.

It is necessary to raise the awareness in public opinion that the elderly represent, in any case, a resource to be valued. For this reason, economic support and legislative initiatives, which allow them not to be excluded from social life, must be strengthened. In truth, during the last decade, society has become more attentive to their needs, and medicine has developed palliative cures that, along with an integral approach to the sick person, are particularly beneficial for long-term patients.

3. The greater amount of free time in this stage of life offers the elderly the opportunity to face the primary issues that perhaps had been previously set aside, due to concerns that were pressing or considered a priority nonetheless. Knowledge of the nearness of the final goal leads the elderly person to focus on that which is essential, giving importance to those things that the passing of years do not destroy.

Precisely because of this condition, the elderly person can carry out his or her role in society. If it is true that man lives upon the heritage of those who preceded him, and that his future depends definitively on how the cultural values of his own people are transmitted to him, then the wisdom and experience of the elderly can illuminate his path on the way of progress toward an ever more complete form of civilization.

How important it is to rediscover this mutual enrichment between different generations! The Lenten Season, with its strong call to conversion and solidarity, leads us this year to focus on these important themes which concern everyone. What would happen if the People of God yielded to a certain current mentality that considers these people, our brothers and sisters, as almost useless when they are reduced in their capacities due to the difficulties of age or sickness? Instead, how different the community would be, if, beginning with the family, it tries always to remain open and welcoming towards them.

4. Dear brothers and sisters, during Lent, aided by the Word of God, let us reflect upon how important it is that each community accompany with loving understanding those who grow old. Moreover, one must become accustomed to thinking confidently about the mystery of death, so that the definitive encounter with God occurs in a climate of interior peace, in the awareness that He "who knit me in my mother's womb" (cf. Psalm 139:13b) and who willed us "in his image and likeness" (cf. Genesis 1:26) will receive us.

Mary, our guide on the Lenten journey, leads all believers, especially the elderly, to an ever more profound knowledge of Christ dead and risen, who is the ultimate reason for our existence. May she, the faithful servant of her divine Son, together with Saints Ann and Joachim, intercede for each one of us "now and at the hour of our death."

My Blessing to All!

From the Vatican, September 8, 2004

JOHN PAUL II

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What the Pope's Message Says About the Elderly

According to Bishop Léonard, Philosopher and Theologian

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 27, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Bishop André-Mutien Léonard of Namur, Belgium, was called to Rome to present this year's papal Lenten Message, which is an appeal to love the life of the elderly.

In this interview with ZENIT, Bishop Léonard, 64, explains that the theme of the message -- "Loving the Lord ... means life to you, and length of days" -- is particularly forceful, as the one who writes is an elderly man who shows the world every day that all life is worth living.

Q: You have just presented, together with Archbishop Paul Cordes, John Paul II's Message for Lent 2005. The Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" calls the attention of Catholics every year to the charitable dimension of Lent. This year, John Paul II has called you, who are a philosopher, theologian and pastor, to present this message. What is the novelty?

Bishop Léonard: What is characteristic of this message is that it calls attention to the condition of elderly people.

In Western countries, where the demography is generally catastrophic and where a very marked aging of the population will be experienced, this issue will be very important. Therefore, it is important to take into account some points of reference.

Moreover, this message has another amazing characteristic; it is written by an elderly Pope, profoundly marked by suffering and sickness. When John Paul II reminds us that one cannot say that a person, weakened by sickness or age, is useless and is no more than a burden to society, his word is incarnated in the witness he gives to the world.

His recent pilgrimage to Lourdes was, from this point of view, of exceptional eloquence. A sick one among the sick, at the limit of his strength, he witnessed in the name of all persons eroded by age or sickness, that they always have an important place in society.

The testimony of the Pope's weakness is perhaps the strongest of all his pontificate. Already St. Paul had said, "My power is made perfect in weakness."

Q: To whom is the message addressed? to specialists? to people with the capacity to make decisions?

Bishop Léonard: This message, clearly, is addressed implicitly to politicians and those responsible for public health, encouraging them in face of temptations which suggest that life advanced in age, disabled or terminal, does not really merit all the respect due to a human person.

At the same time, seeing the positive sides of present-day society, the Pope promotes forcefully the progress made in supporting very elderly or sick people, especially thanks to the development of palliative care.

However, beyond public authorities or health specialists, John Paul II addresses each one of us so that, wherever we are, and first of all in the family realm, we show respect and esteem for older people.

Q: John Paul II wrote the encyclical "Evangelium Vitae," and, before that, the instruction of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "Donum Vitae" was published. Have these teachings been welcomed by Christian communities? What must be done so that they will be transmitted to the younger generations, and lived?

Bishop Léonard: "Evangelium Vitae" and "Donum Vitae" are treasures that are largely unknown and little used. It is up to pastors, bishops and priests especially to make them known, to have them pass through the media, and touch the hearts of young people. Often, these texts are put aside regarded primarily as a series of prohibitions.

In this way, there is the impression that the Church always says "no" to everything. However, the Church says "yes" first of all to the dignity of the human person, which implies immediately, of course, to say "no" to everything that harms him.

Whoever says "no" to dictatorship says "yes," above all, to democratic liberties. Whoever says "no" to anti-Semitism or racism, says "yes," above all, to respect for the human person, regardless of his or her race or religion.

In the same way, when the Church says "no" to abortion or euthanasia, it is saying "yes" to the personal dignity of what we all once were, a human embryo and fetus, and what, perhaps, we will be one day, namely, a person who is economically not profitable and biologically poorly endowed. But at all times, such persons are human persons worthy of infinite respect.

Q: This message on life is published on the anniversary of the commemoration of the discovery of the Auschwitz death camp, where the Pope sent Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris, as papal legate. Perhaps it is an accident, but isn't it a question in the end of learning to love and respect human life so that such a tragedy will not be repeated? Don't you think that in defending life we are fighting against the "demons" inherited from the past?

Bishop Léonard: I don't think this coincidence was desired, and it would not be appropriate to take advantage of it, assimilating problems that are extremely different, although they have in common the crucial issue of absolute respect for the innocent human person.

In any case, it is historically true that National Socialism made use of theses such as those of Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche who, in 1922, and without any relation to Hitler's anti-Semitism, legitimated juridically and medically "the destruction of lives that are not worth living."

Whoever opens the door to euthanasia, should be aware of the demons he or she runs the risk of welcoming.

Q: This is a Lenten message. What consequences could it have for the life of believers during these 40 days?

Bishop Léonard: In his message, the Pope reminds us that elderly people in general have more time to pay more attention to the most profound questions of life, death and eternity. It's true.

But without the need of waiting until we are old or sick -- although perhaps we are already in this situation -- we can learn from them.

To think of old age and of the end of life on earth is not to think of something lugubrious or macabre. On the contrary, it sheds a bright light on our present existence and leads us to appreciate better each instant of our present life. From this point of view, John Paul II's message is also stimulating.