In his 2018 Lenten message, Pope Francis used the imagery of the end times found in the Gospel of Matthew to create a persuasive argument for participating in the quintessential Lenten activities of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
It reads: “Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:11-12).
With a narrow focus on this line of Scripture, Pope Francis calls us to consider what “false prophets” may be enslaving us in life.
These can range from temptations of “momentary pleasure,” of wealth, of arrogance, he said. They can be manipulative “snake charmers” or “‘charlatans,’ who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless,” such as drugs, dishonesty and bad relationships.
“These swindlers, in peddling things that have no real value, rob people of all that is most precious: dignity, freedom and the ability to love. They appeal to our vanity, our trust in appearances, but in the end they only make fools of us. Nor should we be surprised. In order to confound the human heart, the devil, who is ‘a liar and the father of lies’ (Jn 8:44), has always presented evil as good, falsehood as truth. That is why each of us is called to peer into our heart to see if we are falling prey to the lies of these false prophets,” the pope said.
Pope Francis also called us to consider the times when “charity can turn cold within us” — when we give into greed and when we reject God.
“All this leads to violence against anyone we think is a threat to our own ‘certainties’: the unborn child, the elderly and infirm, the migrant, the alien among us, or our neighbor who does not live up to our expectations.”
We also perpetrate this coldness of heart in our communities through “selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal.”
Lent, he said, offers a prime opportunity to counter those evils. “By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. ... Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. ... Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth.”
The pope has invited Catholics and all men and women of goodwill to open their hearts to this message this Lent.
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