Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent, the 40-day (excluding Sundays) period of reflection and repentance preceding Easter.
For many Christians, Lent is a period of fasting—a chance to give up something they might otherwise enjoy as a reminder of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. Some choose to forgo sweets, or beef, or alcohol, while others use the time to take a break from technology and social media. Still others use the period as a time to become more disciplined in personal devotions or physical activity.
This year, however, Pope Francis is encouraging a different kind of lenten discipline to millions of Roman Catholics around the world—a fast from self-centeredness and indifference toward others.
In his annual lenten message, Pope Francis urges church members to spend the next six weeks focusing on others instead of themselves. “Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades.”
Pope Francis is fond of quoting early church mystic John Chrysostom: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
Referring to this condition as “the globalization of indifference,” Francis urges Christians to reach out and care for those around them through prayer, acts of charity, and calls to conversion.
“During this Lent,” Francis says, “let us all ask the Lord: ‘Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum’: Make our hearts like yours. In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive, and generous; a heart which is not closed, indifferent, or prey to the globalization of indifference.”
While the words of the Pontiff are challenging in many ways, the one thing that isn’t difficult is finding those around us in need. Every day there are new opportunities to love others and to reach out to those in need. For men and women behind bars and their families, there are many needs, and there are many opportunities to serve. If you would like to join Christians around the country who are praying for these families, please consider joining our prayer team. And for other opportunities to serve, visit www.prisonfellowship.org/get-involved to see how you can fight against indifference in your community.