A proposal for Lent 2018

“Aufblicken zum Kreuz! Mehrmals habe ich es bei Sterbenden erlebt, dass sie zum Kreuz Jesu hinaufgeschaut haben und darin Frieden gefunden haben. Das Kreuz ist Zeichen der Rettung, nicht des Gerichts. Das gilt im Leben wie im Sterben”, schreibt Kardinal Christoph Schönborn.

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).

In a society in which everyone feels called to transform the world or the Church, this word of God breaks in inviting people to transform themselves: “Do not be conformed to this world.” After these words we would expect to hear, “but transform it!” Instead it tells us, “Transform yourselves!” Transform the world, yes, but the world that is within you before thinking you can transform the world outside of you.

This word of God, taken from the Letter to the Romans, introduces us to the spirit of Lent this year. As has been the case for some years now, we will dedicate this first meditation to a general introduction to Lent without entering into the special theme of this year, because of the absence of part of the habitual audience who are committed elsewhere for the Spiritual Exercises.

I. Christians and the World

Let us first take a look at how the ideal of detachment from the world was understood and lived out from the beginning till our day. It is always useful to take into account the experiences of the past if we want to understand the requirements for the present.

In the Synoptic Gospels the word “world” (kosmos) is almost always understood in a morally neutral sense. In its spatial meaning, “world” indicates the earth and the universe (“Go into all the world”). In its temporal meaning, it indicates the present time or “age” (aion). It is with Paul, and even more with John, that the word “world” takes on a moral dimension and most often signifies the world as it became after sin and fell under the dominion of Satan, “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4). This is the meaning of “world” in Paul’s exhortation that we began with and in the almost identical exhortation of John in his First Letter:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. (1 Jn 2:15-16)

Christians never lost sight of the fact that the world in itself, despite everything, is and remains God’s good creation, a creation that he loves and came to save, not to judge: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

The attitude toward the world that Jesus proposes to his disciples is contained in two prepositions: to be in the world but not of the world. “Now I am no more in the world,” he says, addressing the Father, “but they are in the world. . . . They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn 17:11, 16).

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