Pope's Lenten Letter

The Conversion of Heart is the Key to a more Just Society
by Ronald Conklin, LC | Source: Catholic.net
Lent is here again. The Church is so wise to give us the liturgical seasons to help us find Christ and shape our lives to be more and more like His. Every year has its own peculiar mood for each individual person. Some arrive to Lent in a moment of suffering and trial, like those who have just lived through a terrible natural disaster. Others come upon Lent having just experienced some great joy and satisfaction, like my friend whose first child was born a couple days before Ash Wednesday. Others are just struggling with the everyday moral trials of life. No matter the mood, Christ has something to say to each and every one of us. He seeks a sincere conversion of heart from everyone. 

Benedict the XVI wrote a beautiful reflection on justice for this lent that I think could shed some light upon us all. He writes that classically, justice is to render to the other his due. But what man most needs he cannot receive from any society or human being. What man most needs he can only receive as a gift, God. Even if man is given all of his bodily needs always, he is not being given all that he is due. The Pope asks, “What is the cause of injustice?” Most people blame injustice on outside things, happenings, but never look to their own interior to see if they themselves are rendering unto others all that is due to them. Christ himself told us: “out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts” and a list of 12 other evils. Benedict says that “By nature, man is open to sharing freely, but he finds in his being a strange force of gravity that makes him turn in and affirm himself above and against others; this is egoism, the result of original sin.” 

The Holy father then goes on to speak of how the virtue of justice in Hebrew society was the acceptance of God’s will and “equity in relation to ones neighbor” which “for the Israelite is none other than restoring what is owed to God”. And finally he arrives to the justice practiced by Jesus Christ. He, the just man, died for us who are guilty, and on top of that, us, the guilty are blessed as if we were just. This is not human justice, this is divine justice. To give up our lives for our neighbors, to love them to the extreme, that is Christian justice. The Pope says: “Before the justice of the Cross, man may rebel for this reveals how man is not a self-sufficient being, but in need of Another in order to realize himself fully... so we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from “what is mine,” to give me gratuitously “what is His.”” The only thing that is truly “ours” is our own sin. And “what is His” is grace and love. The fact that God loves us and gives us the grace to know and love Him back is a gift that He gives freely, and is His way of practicing justice with us. 

We should all desire to create just societies where everyone is treated according to his incredible dignity as a human being. But this can only happen “where justice is enlivened by love.” If each of us this lent sincerely seeks to convert our selfish heart to a heart that loves, that is compassionate, a heart more like Christ’s, then societies will begin to change. 

Ronald Conklin, LC studies for the Priesthood with the Legionaries of Christ in Rome.

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