Skip to comments.On Ash Wednesday
Posted on 02/13/2013 9:53:43 AM PST by ELS
On Ash Wednesday
"The forty days of Lent recall Israels sojourn in the desert and the temptations of Jesus at the beginning of His public ministry."
Vatican City, February 13, 2013 (Zenit.org).
Before delivering his catechesis today, the Holy Father said the following to the faithful present:
"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As you know, I have decided [applause] Thank you for your sympathy, I have decided to give up the ministry that the Lord has entrusted to me on April 19, 2005. I did this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after having prayed at length and having examined my conscience before God, well aware of the seriousness of the act, but equally conscious of no longer being able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength that it requires. I am supported and enlightened by the certainty that the Church is Christ, who will never allow it to lack His leadership and care. Thank you all for the love and prayer with which you have accompanied me. Thank you, I have felt almost physically in these days, which are not easy for me, the power of prayer that the love of the Church, your prayer, is bringing me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church, for the future Pope, who will lead us."
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Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the liturgical time of Lent, forty days that prepare us for the celebration of Holy Easter. It is a time of particular commitment on our spiritual journey. The number forty occurs several times in Scripture. In particular, it recalls the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the desert: a long period of formation to become the people of God, but also a long period in which the temptation to be unfaithful to the covenant with the Lord was always present. Forty is also the number of days it took the prophet Elijah to reach the Mountain of God, Horeb, as well as the days that Jesus spent in the desert before beginning His public life and where He was tempted by the devil. In this catechesis I would like to reflect on precisely this moment of the earthly life of the Son of God, which we will read in this Sunday's Gospel.
First of all, the desert, where Jesus withdraws, is a place of silence, of poverty, where man is deprived of all material support and is faced with the fundamental questions of life, he is prompted to examine that which is most essential, and hence it is easier to meet God. But the desert is also a place of death, because where there is no water there is no life, and it is a place of solitude, where man feels temptation more intensely. Jesus goes into the desert, and there undergoes the temptation to leave the path indicated by God the Father, to follow other, easier and worldly paths (cf. Lk 4:1-13). And so He bears our temptations, takes upon Himself our misery, to defeat the evil one and open us to the way towards God, the way of conversion.
Reflecting on the temptations undergone by Jesus in the desert is an invitation for each of us to answer a fundamental question: what is truly important in our lives? In the first temptation the devil suggests that Jesus turn a stone into bread to satisfy His hunger. Jesus replies that man also lives from bread, but not by bread alone: without an answer to his hunger for truth, hunger for God, man cannot be saved (cf. vv. 3-4). In the second temptation, the devil offers Jesus the way of power: he leads him on high and offers him dominion over the world, but this is not the way of God: Jesus knows clearly that it is not worldly power that saves the world, but the power of the Cross, of humility, of love (cf. vv. 5-8). In the third temptation, the devil proposes that Jesus throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem and make God save Him through His angels, that is, to do something sensational to test God; but Jesus answers that God is not someone upon whom we may impose our conditions: He is the Lord of all (cf. vv. 9-12). What is the crux of the three temptations that Jesus undergoes? It is the proposal to manipulate God, to use Him for one's own interests, for one's own glory and success. And, in essence, to put oneself in the place of God, removing Him from one's life and making Him seem superfluous. Everyone should then ask himself: what is God's role in my life? Is He is the Lord or am I?
Overcoming the temptation to place God beneath oneself and one's own interests or to place Him in a corner and to convert to the proper ordering of priorities, to give God the first place, is a journey that every Christian must undertake. "Conversion", an invitation that we will hear many times in Lent, means to follow Jesus in such a way that his Gospel is a real guide for life; it means letting God transform us, to stop thinking that we are the only creators of our lives; it means recognizing that we are creatures who depend on God, on His love, and only by "losing" our life in Him can we gain it. This requires making our choices in the light of the Word of God. Today one can no longer be Christian as a simple consequence of living in a society with Christian roots: even those who come from Christian families, and are brought up religiously must renew every day the choice to be Christian, that is, to give God the first place, in front of the temptations that a secularized culture presents us with all the time, before the criticism of many of our contemporaries.
The tests to which modern society subjects Christians, indeed, are many, and affect both personal and social life. It is not easy to be faithful to Christian marriage, to practice mercy in everyday life, to leave space for prayer and inner silence, it is not easy to publicly oppose choices that many consider obvious, such as abortion in the event of an unwanted pregnancy, euthanasia in the case of serious illness, or the selection of embryos to prevent hereditary diseases. The temptation to set aside one's faith is always present and conversion becomes a response to God which must be confirmed repeatedly in life.
There are, as an example and stimulus, the great conversions such as that of St. Paul on the road to Damascus, or of St. Augustine, but also in our time of eclipses of the sense of the sacred, God's grace is at work and works wonders in the lives of many people. The Lord never gets tired of knocking at the door of man in social and cultural contexts that seem swallowed up by secularization, as occurred with the Russian Orthodox Pavel Florensky. After a completely agnostic upbringing, to the point that he felt outright hostility to the religious teachings taught in school, the scientist Florensky found himself exclaiming: "No, one cannot live without God!", and changed his life completely, so much so that he became a monk.
I also have in mind the figure of Etty Hillesum, a young Dutch girl of Jewish origin who would die in Auschwitz. Initially far from God, she discovered Him by looking deep within herself and wrote: "There is a very deep well inside me. And God is in that well. Sometimes I manage to reach Him, more often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then God must be dug out again"(Diary, 97). In her scattered and restless life, she found God right in the midst of the great tragedy of the twentieth century, the Shoah. This young fragile and dissatisfied girl, transfigured by faith, became a woman full of love and inner peace, able to say: "I live in constant intimacy with God."
The ability to oppose the ideological blandishments of her time, to choose the search for truth and open herself to the discovery of faith is evidenced by another woman of our time, the American Dorothy Day. In her autobiography, she confesses openly that she fell in the temptation to solve everything with politics, adhering to the Marxist cause: she writes: "I wanted to go off with the protesters, go to jail, write, influence others and leave my dream to the world. How much ambition and how much self-seeking there was in all this!" The journey of faith in so secularized an environment was particularly difficult, but Grace acts all the same, as she herself points out: "It is certain that I felt more and more often the need to go to church, to kneel down, to bow my head in prayer. A blind instinct, one might say, because I was not conscious of praying. But I went, I inserted myself into the atmosphere of prayer...". God led her to a conscious adherence to the Church, in a life dedicated to the underprivileged.
In our time there is no small number of conversions understood as the return of those who, after perhaps a superficial Christian upbringing, have fallen away from the faith for years and later rediscover Christ and His Gospel. In the Book of Revelation we read: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me "(3:20). Our inner man must prepare itself to be visited by God, and precisely for this reason should not let itself be invaded by illusions, by appearances, by material things.
In this time of Lent, in the Year of Faith, we renew our commitment on the way of conversion, to overcome the tendency to close in on ourselves and to make room for God instead, looking at our daily reality through His eyes. We might say that the choice between closing in on our egoism and opening to the love of God and others, corresponds to the alternatives in Jesus' tempations: the choice, that is, between human power and love of the Cross, between a redemption viewed solely as material well-being and redemption as the work of God, to whom we give the first place in life. Conversion means not closing in on oneself in the pursuit of one's own success, one's own prestige, one's own position, but making sure that every day, in the small things, truth, faith in God and love become the most important thing. Thank you!
[Translation by Peter Waymel]
Addressing the English-speaking pilgrims, the Holy Father said the following:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin our yearly Lenten journey of conversion in preparation for Easter. The forty days of Lent recall Israel’s sojourn in the desert and the temptations of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry. The desert, as the place of silent encounter with God and decision about the deepest meaning and direction of our lives, is also a place of temptation. In his temptation in the desert, Jesus showed us that fidelity to God’s will must guide our lives and thinking, especially amid today’s secularized society. While the Lord continues to raise up examples of radical conversion, like Pavel Florensky, Etty Hillesum and Dorothy Day, he also constantly challenges those who have been raised in the faith to deeper conversion. In this Lenten season, Christ once again knocks at our door (cf. Rev 3:20) and invites us to open our minds and hearts to His love and His truth. May Jesus’ example of overcoming temptation inspire us to embrace God’s will and to see all things in the light of His saving truth.
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s audience, including those from England, Denmark and the United States. My particular greeting goes to the many student groups present. With prayers that this Lenten season will prove spiritually fruitful for you and your families, I invoke upon all of you God’s blessings of joy and peace.
[Original text: English]
© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
* * *
Addressing the Italian-speaking pilgrims, the Holy Father said the following:
Thank you for this gift of several songs that are particularly dear to me. Thank you. And I address a cordial greeting to all the Italian-speaking pilgrims, in particular, to the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I greet the representatives of the National Order of Food Technologists and the group of Carabinieri from Umbria. Dear friends, may your visit to the tombs of the Apostles strengthen your commitment to Christ and make love grow in your families and your communities.
Lastly, I greet the young people, the sick and newlyweds. Tomorrow we celebrate the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, apostles and the first defenders of the faith among the Slavic peoples. May their testimony help you, too, to be apostles of the Gospel, leaven of authentic renewal in personal, family and social life. Thank you all.
[Translation by Peter Waymel]
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How about for the rest of Lent? No meat on Fridays, or other days as well? I know that there was a traditional Catholic view, and that it has been relaxed over the years by the Church.
Can someone fill me in on the details?
Traditionally, some level of fasting was done throughout Lent. However, Sundays are not subject to these rules as they are the Lord's day and are not part of the 40 days of Lent.
I'm sure others can give more detailed explanations, but that is the essence of it.
Catholics abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday as well as on all Fridays during Lent. The strict fast for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday means that we will eat only one main meal on that day, with the other two being very light (and no snacking).
Days of Penance
Can. 1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.
Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
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