Lent is a time of conversion, and a time to guard against the devil, who tries to rob us of God’s dream that we become his sons and daughters. That is what Pope Francis said on Sunday when he visited the violent, crime-ridden Mexican suburb of Ecatepec.
“Lent is a good time to recover the joy and hope that make us feel beloved sons and daughters of the Father,” the Pope said Feb. 14.
God the Father, he continued, “waits for us in order to cast off our garments of exhaustion, of apathy, of mistrust, and so clothe us with the dignity which only a true father or mother knows how to give their children.”
He said that “God’s dream” makes its home and lives within each one of us, “so that at every Easter, in every Eucharist we celebrate, we may be the children of God.”
However, Francis also noted that Lent is “a time of conversion,” and of experiencing daily “how this dream is continually threatened by the father of lies, by the one who tries to separate us, making a divided and fractious society.”
Pope Francis offered his reflections during Mass in the Mexican city of Ecatepec. His Feb. 14 visit to the city is part of his wider, Feb. 12-17 voyage to Mexico that will take him to other Mexican hot zones such as Morelia and Ciudad Juarez.
Ecatepec is one of the most crowded and impoverished parts of Mexico. It is known for its shanty living conditions and violence, particularly toward women. In fact, the city currently has one of highest rates of killings and disappearances of women in the entire country.
Pope Francis has previously mentioned that in coming to Mexico, he wanted to visit places no other Pope had, apart from Mexico City and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. And he did just that, choosing to visit the cities most affected by problems of violence, drug trafficking and immigration.
He delivered his homily at the Mass at the Study Center of Ecatepec. There, Pope Francis said that during the season of Lent, the Church invites us to renew the gift of our baptism, and not let it “lie dormant as if it were something from the past or locked away in some memory chest.”
He said that the devil is constant seeking to divide, and cautioned attendees against falling into the temptation of creating “a society of the few, and for the few.”
Francis lamented the many times people have cried with regret after realizing they haven’t acknowledged the dignity of others, as well as how we are frequently “blind and impervious in failing to recognize our own and others’ dignity.”
“Lent is a time for reconsidering our feelings, for letting our eyes be opened to the frequent injustices which stand in direct opposition to the dream and the plan of God,” he said. He added that Lent is also a time to “unmask” three temptations that “wear down and fracture” the image God wanted to form in us.
He said these temptations are the same ones Jesus is faced with in the day’s Gospel, taken from Luke: wealth, vanity and power.
In the life of a Christian, these temptations “seek to destroy what we have been called to be” and “try to corrode us and tear us down,” the Pope said.
He said that the temptation for wealth consists of taking what is meant for all and using it for one’s own purpose. Namely, it means “taking the bread based on the toil of others, or even at the expense of their very lives.”
“That wealth which tastes of pain, bitterness and suffering. This is the bread that a corrupt family or society gives its own children,” Francis said.
Vanity, on the other hand, is “the pursuit of prestige based on continuous, relentless exclusion of those who ‘are not like me’,” he said. Pride means putting oneself on a higher level than one is truly on.
Francis stressed that these temptations are something we face every day. He questioned those present on how aware they are of the temptations in their own lives.
“We cannot dialogue with the devil. Only the strength of God’s word can defeat him,” he said.
The Pope told the faithful not to lose hope, because “we have chosen Jesus, not the evil one; we want to follow in his footsteps, even though we know that this is not easy.”
“We know what it means to be seduced by money, fame and power,” he said. He explained that it’s because of these temptations that the Church gives us the gift of the Lenten season and invites us to conversion.
The Church, he said, offers us one certainty in God: “(that) he is waiting for us and wants to heal our hearts of all that tears us down. He is the God who has a name: Mercy.”
Jesus is our true wealth, Francis said. He noted that “his name is what makes us famous, his name is our power and in his name we say once more with the Psalm: ‘You are my God and in you I trust.’
Pope Francis closed his homily by praying that the Holy Spirit would renew in all “the certainty that his name is Mercy, and may he let us experience each day that the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”