Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On the Lenten Season
Man "Is Precious Dust in God's Eyes"
H.H. Benedict XVI
February 17, 2010
Dear brothers and
Ash Wednesday, we
begin the Lenten journey: a journey that extends over 40 days and that
leads us to the joy of the Lord's Easter. We are not alone in this
because the Church accompanies and sustains us from the start with the
Word of God, which encloses a program of spiritual life and penitential
commitment, and with the grace of the sacraments.
The words of the Apostle Paul offer us a precise instruction: "Working
together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in
vain. For he says: 'In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of
salvation I helped you.' Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold,
now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:1-2). In fact, in the
Christian vision of life every moment must be called favorable and every
day must be called the day of salvation. But the liturgy of the Church
refers these words in a very particular way to the time of Lent. And
that the 40 days of preparation for Easter be a favorable time and grace
we can understand precisely in the call that the austere rite of the
imposition of ashes addresses to us and which is expressed, in the
liturgy, with two formulae: "Repent and believe in the Gospel," and
"Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return."
The first call is to conversion, a word that must be taken in its
extraordinary seriousness, discovering the amazing novelty it contains.
The call to conversion, in fact, uncovers and denounces the easy
superficiality that very often characterizes our way of living. To be
converted means to change direction along the way of life -- not for a
slight adjustment, but a true and total change of direction. Conversion
is to go against the current, where the "current" is a superficial
lifestyle, inconsistent and illusory, which often draws us, controls us
and makes us slaves of evil, or in any case prisoners of moral
mediocrity. With conversion, instead, one aims to the lofty measure of
Christian life; we are entrusted to the living and personal Gospel,
which is Christ Jesus. His person is the final goal and the profound
meaning of conversion; he is the way which we are called to follow in
life, allowing ourselves to be illumined by his light and sustained by
his strength that moves our steps. In this way conversion manifests its
most splendid and fascinating face: It is not a simple moral decision to
rectify our conduct of life, but it is a decision of faith, which
involves us wholly in profound communion with the living and concrete
person of Jesus.
To be converted and to believe in the Gospel are not two different
things or in some way closely related, but rather, they express the same
reality. Conversion is the total "yes" of the one who gives his own
existence to the Gospel, responding freely to Christ, who first offered
himself to man as Way, Truth and Life, as the one who frees and saves
him. This is precisely the meaning of the first words with which,
according to the Evangelist Mark, Jesus began the preaching of the
"Gospel of God." "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is
at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15).
"Repent and believe in the Gospel" is not only at the beginning of the
Christian life, but accompanies all its steps, [this call] remains,
renewing itself, and spreads, branching out in all its expressions.
Every day is a favorable moment of grace, because each day invites us to
give ourselves to Jesus, to have confidence in him, to remain in him, to
share his style of life, to learn from him true love, to follow him in
daily fulfilling of the will of the Father, the only great law of life
-- every day, even when difficulties and toil, exhaustion and falls are
not lacking, even when we are tempted to abandon the following of Christ
and to shut ourselves in ourselves, in our egoism, without realizing the
need we have to open to the love of God in Christ, to live the same
logic of justice and love.
In the recent Message for Lent, I wished to remind that "humility is
required to accept that I need Another to free me from 'what is mine,'
to give me gratuitously 'what is his.' This happens especially in the
sacraments of reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s
action, we may enter into the 'greatest' justice, which is that of love
(cf. Rm 13, 8-10), the justice that recognizes itself in every case more
a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more than could ever
have been expected" (L'Osservatore Romano, Feb. 5, 2010, p. 8).
The favorable moment and grace of Lent shows us the very spiritual
meaning also through the old formula: "Remember man that thou art dust
and unto dust thou shalt return," which the priest pronounces when he
places ashes on our head. We are thus remitted to the beginning of human
history, when the Lord said to Adam after the original fault: "By the
sweat of your face shall you get bread to eat, Until you return to the
ground, from which you were taken; For you are dirt, and to dirt you
shall return" (Genesis 3:19).
Here, the Word of God reminds us of our frailty, including our death,
which is the extreme expression of our frailty. In face of the innate
fear of the end, and even more so in the context of a culture that in so
many ways tends to censure the reality and the human experience of
dying, the Lenten liturgy on one hand reminds us of death, inviting us
to realism and to wisdom but, on the other hand, it drives us above all
to accept and live the unexpected novelty that the Christian faith
liberates us from the reality of death itself.
Man is dust and to dust he shall return, but he is precious dust in
God's eyes, because God created man for immortality. Thus the liturgical
formula "Remember man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return"
finds the fullness of its meaning in reference to the new Adam, Christ.
The Lord Jesus also wished to freely share with every man the lot of
frailty, in particular through his death on the cross; but precisely
this death, full of his love for the Father and for humanity, has been
the way for the glorious resurrection, through which Christ has become
the source of a grace given to those who believe in him and are made
participants of divine life itself. This life which will have no end is
already present in the earthly phase of our existence, but will be led
to fulfillment after the "resurrection of the flesh." The little gesture
of the imposition of ashes reveals to us the singular richness of its
meaning: It is an invitation to live the time of Lent as a more
conscious and more intense immersion in the Paschal Mystery of Christ,
in his death and resurrection, through participation in the Eucharist
and in the life of charity, which stems from the Eucharist and in which
it finds its fulfillment. With the imposition of ashes we renew our
commitment to follow Jesus, to allow ourselves to be transformed by his
Paschal Mystery, to overcome evil and do good, to have the "old man" in
us die, the one linked to sin, and to have the "new man" be born,
transformed by the grace of God.
Dear friends! While we hasten to undertake the austere Lenten journey,
we want to invoke with particular confidence the protection and help of
the Virgin Mary. May she, the first believer in Christ, be the one who
accompanies us in these 40 days of intense prayer and sincere penance,
to be able to celebrate, purified and completely renewed in mind and
spirit, the great mystery of her Son's Easter.
Good Lent to all!
[The Holy Father then addressed the people in various languages. In
English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Church's Lenten journey
towards Easter. Lent reminds us, as Saint Paul exhorts, "not to accept
the grace of God in vain" (cf. 2 Cor: 6-1), but to recognize that today
the Lord calls us to penance and spiritual renewal. This call to
conversion is expressed in the two formulae used in the rite of the
imposition of ashes. The first formula -- "Turn away from sin and be
faithful to the Gospel " -- echoes Jesus's words at the beginning of his
public ministry (cf. Mk 1:15). It reminds us that conversion is meant to
be a deep and lasting abandonment of our sinful ways in order to enter
into a living relationship with Christ, who alone offers true freedom,
happiness and fulfillment. The second, older formula -- "Remember, man,
that you are dust and to dust you shall return" -- recalls the poverty
and death which are the legacy of Adam's sin, while pointing us to the
resurrection, the new life and the freedom brought by Christ, the Second
Adam. This Lent, through the practice of prayer and penance, and an ever
more fruitful reception of the Church's sacraments, may we make our way
to Easter with hearts purified and renewed by the grace of this special
I welcome all the English-speaking visitors present at today's Audience,
especially those from England, Ireland and the United States. My special
greeting goes to the members of the Movement Pro Sanctitate from
Lithuania, led by Bishop Antons Justs. I also greet the many school and
university students, including those from Bishop Hendrickson High School
in Rhode Island, and I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song.
Upon all of you I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace!
©Copyright 2010 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
[In Italian, the Pope added:]
I greet with affection, in a special way, young people, the sick and
newlyweds. Dear young people, I exhort you to live Lent with a genuine
penitential spirit, as a return to the Father, who awaits all with open
arms. Dear sick people, I encourage you to offer your sufferings
together with Christ for the conversion of those who still find
themselves far from God; and I hope you, dear newlyweds, will build your
families with courage and generosity on the solid rock of divine love.
[Translation by ZENIT]
at the One they Pierced!
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