Pope Francis has centered his Lenten message for 2024 on the Book of Exodus, choosing as its main theme, “Through the Desert God Leads Us to Freedom”, to encourage the faithful that the season is a journey from bondage to spiritual renewal and freedom.
The Holy Father framed this reflection on the departure of the Israelites from Egypt, a story that not only represents the journey from bondage to emancipation, but also of revelation and spiritual freedom.
“When our God reveals himself, his message is always one of freedom,” he said. He also went on to note that this process “is a demanding one”, and that “it is not answered straight away. It has to mature as part of a journey.”
“We realize how true this is at those moments when we feel hopeless, wandering through life like a desert and lacking a promised land as our destination. Lent is the season of grace in which the desert can become once more — in the words of the prophet Hosea — the place of our first love,” Pope Francis observed.
The Pope also underscored the centrality of the desert in the New Testament, observing that on the first Sunday of Lent, we are reminded that Jesus Christ “was driven into the desert by the Spirit in order to be tempted in freedom.”
“The desert is the place where our freedom can mature in a personal decision not to fall back into slavery. In Lent, we find new criteria of justice and a community with which we can press forward on a road not yet taken,” he added.
Tying the season of Lent to the setting of the desert, the Holy Father noted that the penitential season cannot be looked at just as an “abstract journey” but must, instead, be “concrete,” and this shift is predicated upon our capacity to “open our eyes to reality.”
For the pontiff, this reality is centered on the quest to mitigate the suffering and various forms of social and economic oppression that are ubiquitous today, much of which, he said, is caused by “a deficit of hope.”
“This ‘deficit of hope’ is not unlike the nostalgia for slavery that paralyzed Israel in the desert and prevented it from moving forward. An exodus can be interrupted: How else can we explain the fact that humanity has arrived at the threshold of universal fraternity and at levels of scientific, technical, cultural, and juridical development capable of guaranteeing dignity to all, yet gropes about in the darkness of inequality and conflict?”
During Lent 2024, the Holy Father has encouraged the faithful to undertake an interior examination by asking: “Do we hear that cry? Does it trouble us? Does it move us?”
“Our Lenten journey will be concrete if, by listening once more to those two questions, we realize that even today we remain under the rule of Pharaoh. A rule that makes us weary and indifferent. A model of growth that divides and robs us of a future.”
“All too many things keep us apart from each other, denying the fraternity that, from the beginning, binds us to one another,” the pope went on to say.
According to Pope Francis, the Lenten season is a time that is characterized by personal struggle as we suffer from myriad temptations, but it is also the recognition of this that calls us to “pause in prayer, in order to receive the word of God, to pause like the Samaritan in the presence of a wounded brother or sister.”
Highlighting the three pillars of Lent; prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, he noted that they are not disparate acts, but rather form a symbiotic “movement of openness and self-emptying in which we cast out the idols that weigh us down, the attachments that imprison us.”
The Holy Father closed his Lenten message by highlighting the communal aspect of the season, noting “the contemplative dimension of life that Lent helps us to rediscover will release new energies.”
“In the presence of God, we become brothers and sisters, more sensitive to one another: in place of threats and enemies, we discover companions and fellow travelers,” the pope added.
In line with this communal aspect, he related it to the Church’s “synodal form,” which the Church is “rediscovering and cultivating.”
“I invite every Christian community to do just this: to offer its members moments set aside to rethink their lifestyles, times to examine their presence in society, and the contribution they make to its betterment.”