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Lenten Message of the Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon

“I will lead you into the wilderness to speak to your heart.” (Hos 2:16)

1. A life of communion with Christ goes hand in hand with each stage lived in deepest intimacy with Him. Throughout our spiritual journeys, encountering moments of solitude, experiencing the restlessness of silence, feeling the impact of the aridity of existence, can lead both to the drama of dejection as well as to the beauty of rapture. Nonetheless, it always leads us to the radicality of all or nothing or, more precisely, to extremes. Perhaps it is for this reason that, according to Biblical wisdom, the most significant experiences of God and His presence, such as those lived by Abraham, Moses, Job, Elijah, not forgetting Paul and the Virgin Mary, and even by Jesus of Nazareth himself… took place in borderline contexts, beyond the hubub of daily life. One of them was asked to leave their land and forsake everything; another was led to a smoldering bush; There were those who went through the awful experience of suffering, a cruel death, persecution, and even the annihilation of their entire life’s project[1].

In this sense, I am proposing to the Diocese of Lisbon that, in this Lenten season, following the path of conversion, we allow ourselves to be carried away by the whirlwind of radicalism in our spiritual lives; Let yourself be swept away by the high standard of holiness which and is to reach the limits of love, hope and faith. Moved by the breath of God, let us desire to move away not so much from the rhythm of things, but from the mentality of the repetitive, the routine, in short, the trivial in order to be invested in and graced by the power of the Spirit who places us in Christ and radically transforms our hearts.

2. I recognize it in the Lord’s invitation reported by Hosea — “I will lead you into the wilderness and speak to your heart” (Hos 2:16) — the reason for making Lent a desert journey in the encounter with Christ. Just as the evening breeze comforts and strengthens us from the labour of the journey, so being with Him allows us to savour the sweetness of His presence and causes all the power of Life that has been communicated to us by the Spirit to burst forth in us.”And Life was the Light of men. The Light shone in the darkness.” (Jn 1:4-5) — says St John — pointing out how it is by the Life of God in us that we become “salt of the earth and light to the world” (Mt 5:13-14) to manifest the glory of God and overcome the darkness of sin, evil, and selfishness. It is not our ascetic efforts, nor our works, but the preponderance of Life as Light that overcomes the abysses of darkness. Therefore, in Christ we find the permanence of the Gift conferred by Him. In Christ we have access to the intimacy of the Father.

The desert offers us the silence that opens us to listen to what is essential, just as prayer in the Spirit[2] allows only the Word of God to communicate with our heart and to be in tune with it; it raises us to the contemplation of God and to the direct and immediate contact of heaven with earth. It is there that we grasp the value of the other, as brothers and sisters, and of their indispensable presence in our lives, because we will only survive if we assume our condition as part of a community.

3. Lent is an optimal time of approach and preparation for Easter, which is the very heart of the mystery of faith. Inherently, a barren time, which is nonetheless a time that creates space, also becomes a place and a source of new attitudes. It molds us, like clay in the hands of the potter! No one returns from the desert indifferent. The past becomes present offering renewed hope of a saving future. Shaped by grace, it gives new meaning in the light of divine fullness.

Our desert will be fruitful if it becomes a place and time for an encounter with Christ, who makes us receptive to the Father’s will. A Berber proverb reads as follows: “In the desert one fights against everything, except the desert itself… to survive”. During this time, we place ourselves in God’s hands, without resistance, surrendering to His love and to the grace of Life that wants to burst within us because, in fact, it has been given to us, overflowing in both our words and deeds. We ought not to oppose the movement of the dunes just as we ought not to resist the power of new Life that desires to flow through us in works of peace and in closeness to the poor and suffering, through charity and sharing. Our neighbour, our brethren are essential to the fulfillment of divine life which is that of communion, in which the glory of God is revealed, the luminous brightness of our condition redeemed by the death and resurrection of Christ – the fulfillment in us of the declaration of John the Evangelist”and… we have beheld his glory, the glory he possesses as the Only Begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

We evoke here the path of sharing and solidarity that the Lenten Renunciation of the Patriarchate of Lisbon covered in 2023, totalling €161,420.08 for the construction of a home for adolescents and young people who come from the highlands in Laleia (Diocese of Baucau, East Timor) to study. This was a request of the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady.

We propose that this year, 2024, the fruit of our Renunciation has a double purpose: a) to support building works at the house of the Patriarchate of Lisbon in creating accommodation for young people, and b) to support drilling for clean water and building works at the Orphanage School of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery (Diocese of Pemba – Mocímba da Praia and Cabo Delgado), in Mozambique. These orphanages welcome vulnerable children and young people who are victims of war. The boreholes aid the collection of clean water thus avoiding the consumption of poisoned water.

4. Abiding in the Lord is like a gift of solitude. As with the desert, He asks us to abandon many distractions: tasks, worries, to-do’s… even people, so as to mark out, in this “one-to-one” encounter, an intimacy with Him to be engraved in our hearts, in our being.

A threefold face characterises that of our Lenten journey: remembrance, cordiality and service.

a) In Portuguese remember (recordar[3]), means to return to the heart (coração), to return with the heart. Lent brings us back to what the Lord has done for us: his offering of love on the Cross is the compendium of mercy towards us. When we contemplate his face, remembering his gestures, we make a living memory of his goodness, which is free and unconditional. And it moves us! Through the power of this memory, which reminds us of (brings back to our hearts) the Lord’s deeds, we also revisit the enormity of the Lord’s sacrifice for us.

Let us cultivate this memory, which is strengthened when we come face to face with the Lord, especially when we allow ourselves to be looked at and loved by him in adoration. But by placing value on the faces we encounter in our daily lives, we can also cultivate amongst ourselves the art of remembering.

b) Cordialidade (from coração) expresses a heartfelt action. Pope Francis has presented a vast programme on the “culture of the heart”[4]. Sacred Scripture refers to the heart as the Lord’s preferred terrain: there he can sow the seed of his Word so that it may bear fruit in sentiments, plans and actions of holiness (cf. Mt 13:1-23); and, in our hearts, “God pours out his love through the Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).

Here is the Decalogue of Cordiality:
1. Be compassionate and do not judge anyone.
2. Be outraged by the suffering of victims of war and injustice and commit to social transformation.
3. Wholly love and respect each other.
4. Exercise patience as a path to kindness.
5. Be responsible and committed to the truth.
6. Cultivate meekness and humanity and be open to dialogue with all.
7. Place love as the sole and non-negotiable criterion of pastoral action.
8. Nurture intimacy with God and live according to His ways.
9. Ensure the leadership of the Spirit.
10. Promote peace.

c) Serve. The theme of the Holy Father’s Lenten Message this year is “From the desert, God guides us to freedom”[5]. At the root of serving the Lord and others lies the heart converted by the grace of the Spirit. As a true Life Project we are called to free ourselves from slavery, matured in Lent and fully realised in Christ’s paschal victory over death. It is the same as saying that every liberating plan considers a love of truth, because “only the truth will set you free”; but it also enables us to hope because “to the extent that this Lent is one of conversion, lost humanity will feel a shudder of creativity: the glimmer of a new hope“.

May God bless you! May God bless your Lenten journey!

Always in communion with you and the Risen Christ!

Lisbon, 7th of February 2024, Feast of the Five Wounds of the Lord
† RUI, Patriarch of Lisbon