Skip to comments.On the 40 Days of Lent
Posted on 02/21/2007 7:26:21 PM PST by ELS
On the 40 Days of Lent
"God Is Love and His Love Is the Secret of Our Happiness"
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's address at today's general audience. The Pope dedicated his address to Ash Wednesday.
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Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Ash Wednesday, which we celebrate today, is for us Christians a particular day, characterized by an intense spirit of recollection and reflection. We begin, in fact, the Lenten journey, time of listening to the word of God, of prayer and of penance. They are 40 days in which the liturgy will help us to relive the important phases of the mystery of salvation.
As we know, man was created to be a friend of God, but the sin of our first parents broke this relationship of trust and love and, as a consequence, humanity is incapable of fulfilling its original vocation.
Thanks, however, to the redeeming sacrifice of Christ, we have been rescued from the power of evil: Christ, in fact, writes the apostle John, has been the victim of expiation of our sins (cf. 1 John 2:2); and St. Peter adds: "Christ also died for sins once for all" (cf. 1 Peter 3:18).
On dying with Christ to sin, the baptized person is also reborn to a new life and is freely re-established in his dignity as son of God. For this reason, in the early Christian community, baptism was considered as the "first resurrection" (cf. Revelation 20:5; Romans 6:1-11; John 5:25-28).
From the beginning, therefore, Lent was lived as the time of immediate preparation for baptism, which is administered solemnly during the paschal vigil. The whole of Lent was a journey toward this great encounter with Christ, toward immersion in Christ and the renewal of life.
We are already baptized, but often baptism is not very effective in our daily life. Therefore, Lent is also for us a renewed "catechumenate" in which we again go out to encounter our baptism and rediscover and relive it in depth, to again be really Christians.
Therefore, Lent is an opportunity to "be" Christians "again," through a constant process of interior change and of progress in knowledge and love of Christ. Conversion never takes place once and for all, but is a process, an interior journey of our whole life. Certainly this journey of evangelical conversion cannot be limited to a particular period of the year: It is a journey of every day which must embrace our whole existence, every day of our lives.
From this point of view, for every Christian and for all ecclesial communities, Lent is the appropriate spiritual season to train with greater tenacity in the search for God, opening the heart to Christ.
St. Augustine said on one occasion that our life is the sole exercise of the desire to come close to God, of being able to let God enter into our being. "The whole life of the fervent Christian," he says, "is a holy desire." If this is so, in Lent we are invited even more to uproot "from our desires the roots of vanity" to educate the heart in the desire, that is, in the love of God. "God," says St. Augustine, "is all that we desire" (cf. "Tract. in Iohn," 4). And we hope that we really begin to desire God, and in this way desire true life, love itself and truth.
Particularly appropriate is Jesus' exhortation, recorded by the Evangelist Mark: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). The sincere desire for God leads us to reject evil and to do good. This conversion of the heart is above all a free gift of God, who created us for himself and has redeemed us in Jesus Christ: Our happiness consists in remaining in him (cf. John 15:3). For this reason, he himself anticipates our desire with his grace and supports our efforts of conversion.
But what does conversion really mean? Conversion means to seek God, to walk with God, to follow docilely the teachings of his Son, Jesus Christ; to be converted is not an effort to fulfill oneself, because the human being is not the architect of his own destiny. We have not made ourselves. Therefore, self-fulfillment is a contradiction and is too little for us. We have a higher destiny.
We could say that conversion consists precisely in not considering ourselves "creators" of ourselves, thus discovering the truth, because we are not authors of ourselves. Conversion consists in accepting freely and with love that we depend totally on God, our true Creator, that we depend on love. This is not dependence but liberty.
To be converted means, therefore, not to pursue personal success, which is something that passes but that, abandoning all human security, we follow the Lord with simplicity and trust, so that Jesus will become for each one, as Teresa of Calcutta liked to say, "my all in all." Whoever lets himself be conquered by him is not afraid of losing his own life, because on the cross he loved us and gave himself for us. And, in fact, by losing our life out of love, we find it again.
I wished to underline the immense love God has for us in the message on the occasion of Lent, published a few days ago, so that Christians of the whole community can pause spiritually during the time of Lent, together with Mary and John, the beloved disciple, before Him who on the cross consummated for humanity the sacrifice of His Life (cf. John 19:25).
Yes, dear brothers and sisters, the cross is also for us, men and women of our time -- who all too often are distracted by earthly and momentary concerns and interests -- the definitive revelation of divine love and mercy. God is love and His love is the secret of our happiness. However, to enter into this mystery of love there is no other way than that of losing ourselves, of giving ourselves to the way of the cross.
"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). For this reason, the Lenten liturgy, on inviting us to reflect and pray, stimulates us to value penance and sacrifice more, to reject sin and evil and to conquer egoism and indifference. Prayer, fasting and penance, works of charity toward brothers, become in this way spiritual paths that we must undertake to return to God in response to the repeated calls to conversion that the liturgy makes today (cf. Galatians 2:12-13; Matthew 6:16-18).
Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lenten period that we undertake today, with the austere and significant rite of the imposition of ashes, be for all a renewed experience of the merciful love of Christ, who on the cross shed his blood for us.
Let us listen to him with docility to learn "to regive" his love to our neighbor, especially those who are suffering and experiencing difficulties. This is the mission of every disciple of Christ, but to carry it out it is necessary to listen to his word and to nourish oneself assiduously on his body and blood. May the Lenten journey, which in the early Church was the journey to Christian initiation, to baptism and the Eucharist, be for us, the baptized, a "Eucharistic" time in which we take part with greater fervor in the sacrifice of the Eucharist.
May the Virgin Mary -- who, after having shared the sorrowful passion of her divine Son, experienced the joy of resurrection -- accompany us during this Lent to the mystery of Easter, supreme revelation of the love of God.
A good Lent to all!
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Pope greeted the pilgrims in various languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today – Ash Wednesday – we begin our Lenten journey in a spirit of prayer and penance. From the earliest days of the Church, Lent has been a special time of preparation for Baptism. For those already baptized, Lent is a time of conversion and renewed faith. It is a time to “exercise” our desire for God by opening our hearts to the new life offered to us in Christ. Jesus exhorts us to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” Only conversion can lead to true happiness, and God’s grace is needed to inspire and sustain our efforts to direct our hearts completely to him. Conversion consists in recognizing that we depend entirely on God, who created us and redeemed us in Christ. In my Lenten message this year, I wanted to emphasize God’s immense love for us, and to invite all Christians, together with Mary and the Beloved Disciple, to draw near to the Lord, who gave his life for us on the Cross. The Cross – the definitive revelation of God’s love and mercy – is the only way to enter this mystery of saving love. This Lent, by a more fervent participation in the Eucharist, may we learn to enter more deeply into the Paschal Mystery and to “re-give” Christ’s love to others, especially the suffering and those in need.
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I am pleased to greet the pilgrimage group from the Diocese of Jelgava in Latvia, led by Bishop Antons Justs. Upon all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Wales, Ireland, Finland, Japan and the United States, I cordially invoke God’s blessings for a fruitful and spiritually enriching Lent.
And later today, Benedict XVI went to San Anselmo Monastery and Santa Sabina Basilica for liturgies to begin Lent.
Pope Benedict XVI arrives in S.Anselmo to celebrate Ash Wednesday at Santa Sabina Basilica in Rome Feb 21, 2007. (Alessia Giuliani/CPP)
Pope Benedict XVI arrives to celebrate Ash Wednesday at Santa Sabina Basilica in Rome Feb 21, 2007. (Daniele Colarieti & Alessia Giuliani/CPP)
Pope Benedict XVI celebrates Ash Wednesday at the Basilica of St Sabina, on February 21, 2007, in Rome, Italy. (Mimmo Chianura/CPP)
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Ash Wednesday , 21 February 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With the penitential procession we have entered into the austere climate of Lent and, beginning the Eucharistic celebration, we have just prayed to the Lord to help the Christian people "to begin the journey of true conversion in order to victoriously face, with the arms of penance, the battle against the spirit of evil" (cf. Collect).
In a short while, by receiving ashes on our head, we will hear once again a clear invitation to conversion which can be expressed with a double formula: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel", or: "Remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you will return".
Precisely due to the richness of the symbols and of the biblical and liturgical texts, Ash Wednesday is considered the "door" to Lent. In effect, today's liturgy and the gestures that mark it, together form, in anticipation and in a synthetic way, the very physiognomy of the entire period of Lent.
In her tradition, the Church does not limit herself to offering us liturgical and spiritual themes for the Lenten journey, but also points out to us ascetical instruments and practices to benefit from them.
"[R]eturn to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping and mourning". The First Reading opens with these words of the Prophet Joel (2: 12). The suffering and calamities that afflicted the land of Judah in that time impel the sacred author to encourage the Chosen People to conversion, to return, that is, with filial trust to the Lord, rending their hearts and not their garments.
The prophet recalls, in fact, that [God] "is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness and relenting in punishment" (2: 13). Joel's invitation, addressed to his listeners, also applies to us, dear brothers and sisters. Let us not hesitate to rediscover the friendship of God lost by sin; encountering the Lord, we experience the joy of his forgiveness.
And so, almost responding to the words of the Prophet, we have made our own the invocation of the Responsorial Psalm: "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned". Proclaiming Psalm 50, the great penitential Psalm, we appeal to divine mercy, we ask the Lord that by the power of his love he give us the joy of being saved.
With this spirit we begin the "acceptable time" of Lent, as St Paul reminds us in the Second Reading, to allow ourselves to be reconciled with God in Christ Jesus.
The Apostle introduces himself as an ambassador of Christ and clearly shows precisely how, in virtue of Christ, the sinner - that is each one of us - is offered the possibility of authentic reconciliation. "For our sakes God made him who did not know sin" he said, "to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God" (II Cor 5: 21).
Only Christ can transform every situation of sin into newness of grace. This is why the spiritual exhortation of Paul, addressed to the Christians of Corinth, has a strong impact: "We implore you in Christ's name: be reconciled to God"; and again: "Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!" (5: 20; 6: 2).
While Joel spoke of the future day of the Lord as a day of terrible judgment, St Paul, referring to the words of the Prophet Isaiah, speaks of the "acceptable time", of the "day of salvation". The future day of the Lord has become the "today". The terrible day is transformed by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ into the day of salvation. And this day is now, as we have heard in the Gospel verse: "If today you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts". The call to conversion, to penance, resounds today with all its strength, so that its echo accompanies us in every moment of life.
The Ash Wednesday liturgy indicates the fundamental dimension of Lent in the conversion of the heart to God. This is the evocative message contained in the traditional Rite of Ashes, which we will renew shortly.
It is a rite with a double meaning: the first is related to interior change, to conversion and penance, while the second recalls the precarious human condition, as it is easy to understand from the two different formulas that accompany the gesture.
Here in Rome, the penitential procession of Ash Wednesday begins at the Church of Sant'Anselmo and concludes in this Basilica of Santa Sabina, where the first station of Lent takes place.
In regard to this it is interesting to remember that the ancient Roman Liturgy, through the Lenten Stations, elaborated a singular geography of faith, starting from the idea that, with the arrival of the Apostles Peter and Paul and with the destruction of the Temple, Jerusalem was transferred to Rome.
Christian Rome was understood as a reconstruction of the Jerusalem of the time of Jesus within the walls of the City.
This new interior and spiritual geography, inherent in the tradition of the Lenten Station Churches, is not simply a memory of the past, nor an empty anticipation of the future; on the contrary, it intends to help the faithful along the interior journey, the journey of conversion and reconciliation, in order to reach the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem where God dwells.
Dear brothers and sisters, we have 40 days to deepen this extraordinary ascetical and spiritual experience. In the Gospel that has been proclaimed, Jesus indicates some of the useful instruments to accomplish an authentic interior and communitarian renewal: the works of charity (almsgiving), prayer and penance (fasting).
They are the three fundamental practices also dear to the Hebrew tradition, because they contribute to the purification of man before God (cf. Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18). Such exterior gestures, which are done to please God and not to obtain the approval and consensus of men, are acceptable to him if they express the determination of the heart to serve him with simplicity and generosity.
One of the Lenten Prefaces also reminds us of this with regards to fasting, as we read this singular expression: "ieiunio... mentem elevas: with fasting the spirit is raised" (Preface IV).
Fasting, to which the Church invites us in this particular season, certainly is not motivated by the physical or aesthetical order, but stems from the need that man has for an interior purification that detoxifies him from the pollution of sin and evil; it educates him to that healthy renunciation which releases the believer from the slavery to self; that renders him more attentive and open to listen to God and to be at the service of the brethren.
For this reason fasting and the other Lenten practices are considered the traditional Christian spiritual "arms" used to fight evil, unhealthy passions and vice. Concerning this, I would like to listen, together with you, to a brief comment of St John Chrysostom.
"As at the end of winter", he writes, "the summer season returns and the navigator launches his boat into the sea, the soldier polishes his arms and trains the horse for battle, the farmer sharpens the scythe, the wayfarer strengthened, continues his journey, and the athlete sets aside his vestments and prepares for the race; so we too, at the start of this fast, like returning to a spiritual springtime, we polish the arms like the soldiers, we sharpen the scythe like the farmers, and as mariners we launch the boat of our spirit to confront the waves of senseless passions, like the wayfarer we continue the journey to heaven, and as the athlete we prepare ourselves for the fight by totally setting aside everything" (cf. Homily to the People of Antioch, n. 3).
In the Message for Lent I extended the invitation to live these 40 days of special grace as a "Eucharistic" time. Drawing from the inexhaustible font of love that the Eucharist is, in which Christ renews the redemptive sacrifice of the Cross, each Christian can persevere on the journey that we solemnly begin today.
The works of charity (almsgiving), prayer, fasting, together with every sincere effort of conversion, find their most lofty significance and value in the Eucharist, centre and culmination of the life of the Church and the history of salvation.
"May this Sacrament that we have received, O Father", we will pray at the end of Holy Mass, "sustain us on our Lenten way, make holy our fasting and render it efficacious to heal our spirit".
We ask Mary to accompany us so that, at the end of Lent, we may contemplate the Risen Lord, interiorly renewed and reconciled with God and our brethren. Amen!
Thanks for posting this since Papa is on retreat and we won't have our weekly audience fix. A friend who is a seminarian in Rome said that Romans get ashes imposed on the top of their heads. It's the seminarians who get crossed on their foreheads.
That's exactly why I posted it. I was planning on mentioning that when I get home tonight and send out a ping to the weekly audience ping list.
As many of you probably already know, there was no general audience today because the Holy Father is participating in a Lenten retreat this week. However, I have been keeping my eye out for the English translation of the homily Benedict XVI gave last Wednesday at the start of Lent. I posted it in reply #3.
Please let me know if you want to be on or off this list.