Pope Benedict XVI met with 12,000 pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square March 1. Since the audience coincided with Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lent, the Holy Father dedicated his catechesis to the liturgical season of Lent, which he described as a “journey of 40 days that will lead us to the Easter Triduum, a memorial of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection — the heart of the mystery of our salvation.”
The Pope pointed out the symbolic meaning behind the 40-day period of the Lenten season: the 40 days of rain that led to God’s covenant with Noah, the 40 days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai when God gave him the Ten Commandments, and the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert praying and fasting before beginning his public ministry.
“Today, we, too, begin a spiritual journey of reflection and prayer with all the Christians of the world as we head toward Calvary and meditate on the mysteries that are central to the faith,” the Holy Father noted. “In this way, we prepare ourselves to experience — after the mystery of the cross — the joy of the Resurrection of Easter.”
Noting that ashes will be distributed on Ash Wednesday in every parish around the world, Pope Benedict pointed out that the day is a reminder to reflect on our human condition, “which is subject to corruption and limitation,” as well as “an invitation to follow the Gospel firmly and faithfully as the basis for our renewal as individuals and as a community.”
The Holy Father noted that all Christians are called during the time of Lent to be attentive to the needs of their brothers and sisters who are suffering.
“In bringing us closer to God, our Lenten journey allows us to see our brothers and sisters and their needs with new eyes,” he said. “Conscious of her mission in the world, the Church does not cease to proclaim the merciful love of Christ, who continues to direct his compassionate gaze upon the peoples and the nations of all times.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, with the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, we begin our Lenten journey of 40 days that will lead us to the Easter Triduum, a memorial of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection — the heart of the mystery of our salvation. This is a propitious time in which the Church invites Christians to become more intensely aware of Christ’s saving work and to live out our baptism in greater depth. In fact, from the earliest times the people of God have nourished themselves abundantly on the Word of God during this liturgical season in order to be strengthened in their faith, retracing at the same time the entire history of creation and redemption.
These 40 Days
Since it extends over 40 days, Lent’s evocative power cannot be denied. It recalls some of the events that marked the life and history of ancient Israel, presenting them as a valuable model. For example, we are reminded of the far-reaching flood that lasted for 40 days, which led to the covenant that God made with Noah and, as a result, with mankind, and of Moses’ 40-day sojourn on Mount Sinai, followed by the gift of the tablets with God’s law. Above all, the Lenten season invites us to relive with Jesus the 40 days he spent in the desert, praying and fasting before beginning his public mission.
Today, we, too, begin a spiritual journey of reflection and prayer with all the Christians of the world as we head toward Calvary and meditate on the mysteries that are central to the faith. In this way, we prepare ourselves to experience — after the mystery of the cross — the joy of the Resurrection of Easter.
Today, a gesture that is both literal and symbolic is being carried out in every parish community: the distribution of ashes. Two very meaningful formulas accompany this rite, constituting an urgent call to recognize ourselves as sinners and to turn to God. The first formula says, “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return” (see Genesis 3:19). These words from the Book of Genesis recall our human condition, which is subject to corruption and limitation. Their aim is to encourage us to place all our hope in God alone. The second formula refers to Jesus’ words at the beginning of his itinerant ministry: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). It is an invitation to follow the Gospel firmly and faithfully as the basis for our renewal as individuals and as a community.
Truth and Love
The life of a Christian is a life of faith, founded on the Word of God and nourished by it. Amid the trials of life and during each temptation, the secret of victory is found in listening to the Word of Truth and in resolutely rejecting lies and sin. This is the program that is true and central to the Lenten season: to listen to the Word of Truth, to live out, speak out and carry out the truth, to reject lies that poison mankind and are the doorway to all evil.
Therefore, it is urgent during these 40 days to listen once again to the Gospel, to the Word of the Lord, the Word of Truth, so that in every Christian — in each one of us — an awareness of the truth that has been given to him — that has been given to us — is reinforced in order to live out this truth and to give witness to it. Lent encourages us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and, in this way, to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, and the path we must take in life.
Thus, the Lenten season offers us the ascetic and liturgical path that, while helping us to open up our eyes to our weaknesses, makes us open our hearts to Christ’s merciful love.
The Needs of Others
In bringing us closer to God, our Lenten journey allows us to see our brothers and sisters and their needs with new eyes. Whoever begins to see God and to contemplate the face of Christ sees his brother with new eyes and discovers his brother — his good, his evil and his needs. For this reason, Lent, as a time of listening to the truth, is an ideal moment to be converted to love because profound truth — God’s truth — is, at the same time, love. By being converting to God’s truth, we necessarily must be converted to love — a love that is capable of adopting the Lord’s attitude of compassion and mercy, as I sought to recall in my message for Lent, whose theme was the words from the Gospel, “Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity” (Matthew 9:36).
Conscious of her mission in the world, the Church does not cease to proclaim the merciful love of Christ, who continues to direct his compassionate gaze upon the peoples and the nations of all times. “In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of the world’s population, indifference and self-centered isolation stand in stark contrast to the ‘gaze’ of Christ. Fasting and almsgiving, which, together with prayer, the Church proposes in a special way during the Lenten season, are suitable means for us to become conformed to this ‘gaze’” (L’Osservatore Romano, Feb. 1, 2006, Page 5), the gaze of Christ, and to see ourselves — mankind — and others with his gaze. With this spirit, we enter into the austere and prayerful climate of Lent, which is, indeed, a climate of love for one’s brother.
Prayer and Fasting
May these days be days of reflection and intense prayer, in which we allow ourselves to be guided by God’s word, which the liturgy offers us in abundance. Moreover, may Lent be a time of fasting, penance and vigilance over our own selves, with the conviction that the struggle against sin never ends, since temptation is a daily reality and frailty and illusion are the experience of every individual.
Finally, may Lent be a time to do good to others through almsgiving, an occasion to sincerely share the gifts we have received with our brothers, and to pay attention to the needs of the poor and the abandoned.
May Mary, the mother of the Redeemer, who is a model for listening and faithfully following God, accompany us on this journey of penance. May the Virgin Mary help us to celebrate, purified and renewed in mind and spirit, the great mystery of Christ’s paschal sacrifice. With these sentiments I wish all of you a good and fruitful Lent.
of the March 1 catechesis.