Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
On the 40 Days of Lent
"God Is Love and His Love Is the Secret of Our Happiness"
H.H. Benedict XVI
February 21, 2007
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 pilgrims in several
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.
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.
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