After expounding on the spiritual benefits of poverty, Pope Francis uses his Lenten message to encourage us to take up solidarity with the poor in our privations for Lent. “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty,” writes the Holy Father. Archbishop Óscar A. Romero of El Salvador made a similar call at the beginning of his final Lent in 1980 in the month leading up to his assassination.
Romero inaugurated that Lenten season inviting the faithful participate in Lent and use it to attain an authentic spiritual renewal:
Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, we will begin the season of Lent ... I invite everyone to participate in the impressive ceremony of the ashes which is a sign of our mortality. Let us use this time for serious reflection. There is no more precious time to help our nation than this time of Lent, especially if during this time we pray and do penance.
Fasting is a way to dominate the will and thus we are showing God that we are willing to deprive ourselves of something in order to make amends for our excessive ways and the abuse of our freedom. This is the meaning of penance. Therefore I invite you to live this season of Lent in a way that we do not put the emphasis on eating or not eating meat but rather that we focus on the idea of mortification and sharing the little that we have with those who have less than we. Let us live with this sense of participation and love and charity. Above all during this time of Lent let us seek ways to become reconciled with our enemies. Let us forgive one another and thus prepare ourselves to rise with Christ on Easter Sunday!
Archbishop Romero would say that, “The Church invites us to a modern form of penance, of fasting and prayer—which are perennial Christian practices, but adapted to the circumstances of each people.” In another sermon of that season, he explained how penitential fasting should be adapted to one’s circumstances to show solidarity with the poor.
Therefore I believe that it is important to remember that Pope Paul VI has spoken about two ways of celebrating Lent: one way in the developed countries and another way in those poor countries where Lent is never ending because people are always fasting. In the situation of developed nations people there should make Lent a time when they deepen themselves in the understanding of the virtue of austerity and deprive themselves of something. Meanwhile here in El Salvador those who are always hungry should give a penitential meaning to their situation. We must not allow ourselves to become indifferent but must work for the kingdom of justice so that this kingdom might reign in our country. The best Lent will always be that in which we work together for social justice and love those who are poor, just like John Paul II suggested to me during my visit to Rome ... If you do not want to listen to me, at least listen to the voice of Pope John Paul II, who this very week, at the beginning of Lent, exhorted Catholics of the world to give up superfluous wealth in order to help the needy and to do this as a sign of Lenten penance.
Archbishop Romero closed by citing Blessed John Paul’s Lenten message. It was, in the end, a message that sounded pretty close to what Pope Francis is saying in our day.
The Pope pointed out that material goods, which some people view as superfluous, are needed by hundreds of millions of human beings and are essential for their survival. The Pope said that the Church’s concern is not only that there be a fairer distribution of wealth, but that this sharing become a reality as people take on an attitude of wanting to share not only their possessions but also their lives with those who are disadvantaged in our society. This is beautiful. Social justice is not just a law that mandates sharing. Seen in a Christian manner, it is an internal attitude like that of Christ, who, being rich, became poor so as to be able to share his love with the poor.
NEXT: why poverty leads us to God