On Friday Pope Benedict XVI's message for Lent 2013 was published at the Vatican. With less than two weeks to Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father has concentrated his reflections for the 40 days of prayer, penance and almsgiving to "the indissoluble interrelation" between faith and charity.
The Pope writes '"faith is a gift
and response, it helps us know the truth of Christ as the incarnate and
crucified Love, full and perfect obedience to the Father's will and
God's infinite mercy towards others", "charity helps us enter into the
love of God manifest in Christ, and joins us in a personal and
existential way to the total and unconditional self-giving of Jesus to
the Father and to his brothers and sisters.
"The greatest work of
charity is evangelization, because "essentially, everything proceeds
from Love and tends towards Love. This Year of Faith, Pope Benedict XVI
has dedicated his Lenten message to the relationship between faith and
charity, entitled "Believing in charity calls forth charity."
message the Pope addresses the issue starting from the definition of
faith as "response to the love of God”."Faith - writes Benedict XVI - is
this personal adherence - which involves all our faculties - to the
revelation of God's gratuitous and "passionate" love for us, fully
revealed in Jesus Christ.
He notes "Sometimes we tend, in fact, to
reduce the term "charity" to solidarity or simply humanitarian aid. It
is important, however, to remember that the greatest work of charity is
evangelization, which is the "ministry of the word".
writes: “There is no action more beneficial - and therefore more
charitable - towards one's neighbour than to break the bread of the word
of God, to share with him the Good News of the Gospel, to introduce him
to a relationship with God: evangelization is the highest and the most
integral promotion of the human person.
Faith he concludes, precedes charity, but faith is genuine only if crowned by charity.
Below please find the text of the Holy Father’s Lenten message 2013:
Believing in charity calls forth charity
“We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,The
celebration of Lent, in the context of the Year of Faith, offers us a
valuable opportunity to meditate on the relationship between faith and
charity: between believing in God – the God of Jesus Christ – and love,
which is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and which guides us on the path of
devotion to God and others.
1. Faith as a response to the love of God
my first Encyclical, I offered some thoughts on the close relationship
between the theological virtues of faith and charity. Setting out from
Saint John’s fundamental assertion: “We have come to know and to believe
in the love God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16), I observed that “being
Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but
the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon
and a decisive direction … Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us” (Deus Caritas Est,
Faith is this personal adherence – which involves all our faculties
– to the revelation of God’s gratuitous and “passionate” love for us,
fully revealed in Jesus Christ. The encounter with God who is Love
engages not only the heart but also the intellect: “Acknowledgement of
the living God is one path towards love, and the ‘yes’ of our will to
his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all-embracing
act of love. But this process is always open-ended; love is never
‘finished’ and complete” (ibid., 17).
Hence, for all Christians,
and especially for “charity workers”, there is a need for faith, for
“that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens
their spirits to others. As a result, love of neighbour will no longer
be for them a commandment imposed, so to speak, from without, but a
consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active
through love” (ibid., 31a).
Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love – “Caritas Christi urget nos” (2 Cor 5:14) – they are profoundly open to loving their neighbour in concrete ways (cf. ibid.,
33). This attitude arises primarily from the consciousness of being
loved, forgiven, and even served by the Lord, who bends down to wash the
feet of the Apostles and offers himself on the Cross to draw humanity
into God’s love.
“Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our
sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God
is love! … Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced
heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light – and
in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown
dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working” (ibid.,
39). All this helps us to understand that the principal distinguishing
mark of Christians is precisely “love grounded in and shaped by faith” (ibid., 7).
2. Charity as life in faith
entire Christian life is a response to God’s love. The first response
is precisely faith as the acceptance, filled with wonder and gratitude,
of the unprecedented divine initiative that precedes us and summons us.
And the “yes” of faith marks the beginning of a radiant story of
friendship with the Lord, which fills and gives full meaning to our
whole life. But it is not enough for God that we simply accept his
Not only does he love us, but he wants to draw us to
himself, to transform us in such a profound way as to bring us to say
with Saint Paul: “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in
me” (cf. Gal 2:20).
When we make room for the love of God,
then we become like him, sharing in his own charity. If we open
ourselves to his love, we allow him to live in us and to bring us to
love with him, in him and like him; only then does our faith become
truly “active through love” (Gal 5:6); only then does he abide in us (cf. 1 Jn 4:12).
Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); charity is “walking” in the truth (cf. Eph 4:15). Through faith we enter into friendship with the Lord, through charity this friendship is lived and cultivated (cf. Jn
15:14ff). Faith causes us to embrace the commandment of our Lord and
Master; charity gives us the happiness of putting it into practice (cf. Jn 13:13-17). In faith we are begotten as children of God (cf. Jn 1:12ff); charity causes us to persevere concretely in our divine sonship, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal
5:22). Faith enables us to recognize the gifts that the good and
generous God has entrusted to us; charity makes them fruitful (cf. Mt 25:14-30).
3. The indissoluble interrelation of faith and charity
light of the above, it is clear that we can never separate, let alone
oppose, faith and charity. These two theological virtues are intimately
linked, and it is misleading to posit a contrast or “dialectic” between
them. On the one hand, it would be too one-sided to place a strong
emphasis on the priority and decisiveness of faith and to undervalue and
almost despise concrete works of charity, reducing them to a vague
On the other hand, though, it is equally unhelpful to
overstate the primacy of charity and the activity it generates, as if
works could take the place of faith. For a healthy spiritual life, it is
necessary to avoid both fideism and moral activism.
life consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then
coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to
serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love. In sacred
Scripture, we see how the zeal of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel
and awaken people’s faith is closely related to their charitable concern
to be of service to the poor (cf. Acts 6:1-4).
In the Church,
contemplation and action, symbolized in some way by the Gospel figures
of Mary and Martha, have to coexist and complement each other (cf. Lk
10:38-42). The relationship with God must always be the priority, and
any true sharing of goods, in the spirit of the Gospel, must be rooted
in faith (cf. General Audience, 25 April 2012). Sometimes we tend, in fact, to reduce the term “charity” to
solidarity or simply humanitarian aid. It is important, however, to
remember that the greatest work of charity is evangelization, which is
the “ministry of the word”.
There is no action more beneficial – and
therefore more charitable – towards one’s neighbour than to break the
bread of the word of God, to share with him the Good News of the Gospel,
to introduce him to a relationship with God: evangelization is the
highest and the most integral promotion of the human person. As the
Servant of God Pope Paul VI wrote in the Encyclical Populorum Progressio, the proclamation of Christ is the first and principal contributor to development
(cf. n. 16). It is the primordial truth of the love of God for us,
lived and proclaimed, that opens our lives to receive this love and
makes possible the integral development of humanity and of every man
(cf. Caritas in Veritate, 8).
Essentially, everything proceeds
from Love and tends towards Love. God’s gratuitous love is made known
to us through the proclamation of the Gospel. If we welcome it with
faith, we receive the first and indispensable contact with the Divine,
capable of making us “fall in love with Love”, and then we dwell within
this Love, we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others.
Concerning the relationship between faith and works of charity, there is a passage in the Letter to the Ephesians
which provides perhaps the best account of the link between the two:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your
own doing; it is the gift of God; not because of works, lest anyone
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for
good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them”
(2:8-10). It can be seen here that the entire redemptive initiative
comes from God, from his grace, from his forgiveness received in faith;
but this initiative, far from limiting our freedom and our
responsibility, is actually what makes them authentic and directs them
towards works of charity. These are not primarily the result of human
effort, in which to take pride, but they are born of faith and they flow
from the grace that God gives in abundance.
Faith without works is like
a tree without fruit: the two virtues imply one another. Lent invites
us, through the traditional practices of the Christian life, to nourish
our faith by careful and extended listening to the word of God and by
receiving the sacraments, and at the same time to grow in charity and in
love for God and neighbour, not least through the specific practices of
fasting, penance and almsgiving.
4. Priority of faith, primacy of charity
Like any gift of God, faith and charity have their origin in the action of one and the same Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 13), the Spirit within us that cries out “Abba, Father” (Gal 4:6), and makes us say: “Jesus is Lord!” (1 Cor 12:3) and “Maranatha!” (1 Cor 16:22; Rev 22:20).
as gift and response, causes us to know the truth of Christ as Love
incarnate and crucified, as full and perfect obedience to the Father’s
will and infinite divine mercy towards neighbour; faith implants in
hearts and minds the firm conviction that only this Love is able to
conquer evil and death. Faith invites us to look towards the future with
the virtue of hope, in the confident expectation that the victory of
Christ’s love will come to its fullness. For its part, charity ushers us
into the love of God manifested in Christ and joins us in a personal
and existential way to the total and unconditional self-giving of Jesus
to the Father and to his brothers and sisters. By filling our hearts
with his love, the Holy Spirit makes us sharers in Jesus’ filial
devotion to God and fraternal devotion to every man (cf. Rom 5:5).
relationship between these two virtues resembles that between the two
fundamental sacraments of the Church: Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism (sacramentum fidei) precedes the Eucharist (sacramentum caritatis),
but is ordered to it, the Eucharist being the fullness of the Christian
journey. In a similar way, faith precedes charity, but faith is genuine
only if crowned by charity. Everything begins from the humble
acceptance of faith (“knowing that one is loved by God”), but has to
arrive at the truth of charity (“knowing how to love God and
neighbour”), which remains for ever, as the fulfilment of all the
virtues (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).
Dear brothers and sisters, in this
season of Lent, as we prepare to celebrate the event of the Cross and
Resurrection – in which the love of God redeemed the world and shone its
light upon history – I express my wish that all of you may spend this
precious time rekindling your faith in Jesus Christ, so as to enter with
him into the dynamic of love for the Father and for every brother and
sister that we encounter in our lives. For this intention, I raise my
prayer to God, and I invoke the Lord’s blessing upon each individual and
upon every community!
From the Vatican, 15 October 2012