Papal Message for Lent 2005
Pope John Paul II
September 8, 2004
Loving the Lord means life and length of days
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 practising 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
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 a 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.
Valuing the elderly
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.
'A climate of interior peace'
4. Dear brothers and sisters, during Lent, aided by the Word of God, let us
reflect upon how important it is that each community accompanying 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. Ps 139:13) and who willed us "in his image and
likeness" (cf. Gn 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 Sts Ann and Joachim, intercede for each one of us "now and at
the hour of our death".
My Blessing to all!
From the Vatican, 8 September 2004
Weekly Edition in English
2 February 2005, page 1
L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.