Pope Benedict XVI- General Audiences
"On the road!"
Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Today, with the Ash Wednesday Liturgy, the Lenten journey of 40 days
begins that will lead us to the Easter Triduum, the memorial of the
passion, death and Resurrection of the Lord, heart of the mystery of
our salvation. It is a favourable time when the Church invites
Christians to have a keener awareness of the redeeming work of
Christ and to live their Baptism in greater depth.
Indeed, in this liturgical season, the People of God from the
earliest times have drawn abundant nourishment from the Word of God
to strengthen their faith, reviewing the entire history of creation
With its 40-day duration, Lent has an indisputably evocative power.
Indeed, it intends to recall some of the events that marked the life
and history of ancient Israel, presenting its paradigmatic value
anew also to us.
We think, for example, of the 40 days of the great flood that led to
God's Covenant with Noah, and hence, with humanity, and of the 40
days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai, after which he was given the
Tables of the Law.
The Lenten period is meant to serve as an invitation to relive with
Jesus the 40 days he spent in the desert, praying and fasting, in
preparation for his public mission.
Today, we too, together with all the world's Christians, are
spiritually setting out towards Calvary on a journey of reflection
and prayer, meditating on the central mysteries of the faith. We
will thus prepare ourselves to experience, after the mystery of the
Cross, the joy of Easter.
Today, an austere and symbolic gesture is being made in all parish
communities: the imposition of ashes, and this
rite is accompanied by two formulas, full of meaning, that are a
pressing appeal to recognize that we are sinners and to return to
The first formula says: "Remember that you are dust, and unto
dust you will return" (cf. Gn 3: 19). These words of the Book of
Genesis call to mind the human condition placed under the sign of
transience and limitation, and are meant to spur us once again to
place our every hope in God alone.
The second formula refers to the words that Jesus spoke at the
beginning of his itinerant ministry: "Repent, and believe in the
Gospel" (Mk 1: 15). This is an invitation to base our personal
and community renewal on a firm and trusting attachment to the
The Christian's life is a life of faith, founded on the Word of God
and nourished by it. In the trials of life and in every temptation,
the secret of victory lies in listening to the Word of truth and
rejecting with determination falsehood and evil.
This is the true and central programme of the Lenten Season: to
listen to the word of truth, to live, speak and do what is true, to
refuse falsehood that poisons humanity and is the vehicle of all
It is therefore urgently necessary in these 40 days to listen anew
to the Gospel, the Word of the Lord, the word of truth, so that in
every Christian, in every one of us, the understanding of the truth
given to him, given to us, may be strengthened, so that we may live
it and witness to it.
Lent encourages us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and
thus to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from,
where we must go, what road to take in life. And thus, the Season of
Lent offers us an ascetic and liturgical route which, while helping
us to open our eyes to our weakness, opens our hearts to the
merciful love of Christ.
The Lenten journey, by bringing us close to God, enables us to look
upon our brethren and their needs with new eyes. Those who begin to
recognize God, to look at the face of Christ, also see their brother
with other eyes, discover their brother, what is good for him, what
is bad for him, his needs.
Lent, therefore, as a time of listening to the truth, is a
favourable moment to convert to love, because the deep truth, the
truth of God, is at the same time love.
By converting to the truth of God, we must necessarily be converted
to love; a love that knows how to make its own the Lord's attitude
of compassion and mercy, as I wanted to recall in the Message for
Lent, whose theme consists of the Gospel words: "Jesus, at
the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity" (Mt 9: 36).
Aware of her mission in the world, the Church never ceases to
proclaim the merciful love of Christ, who continues to turn his
compassionate gaze upon the people and peoples of every time. "In
the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of
the world's population", I wrote in the above-mentioned Message
for Lent, "indifference and self-centred 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 English edition, 8 February
2006, p. 7), to the gaze of Christ, and to see ourselves, humanity,
others, with his gaze.
In this spirit, let us enter the austere and prayerful atmosphere of
Lent, which is truly an atmosphere of love for our brethren.
May these be days of reflection and of intense prayer, in which we
let ourselves be guided by the Word of God, which the liturgy offers
to us in abundance. May Lent also be a time of fasting, penance and
watchfulness of ourselves, and may we be convinced that the fight
against sin is never-ending, because temptation is a daily reality
and we all experience fragility and delusion.
Lastly, through almsgiving and doing good to others, may Lent be an
opportunity for sincere sharing with our brethren of the gifts that
we have received, and of attention to the needs of the poorest and
most abandoned people.
On this penitential journey, may we be accompanied by Mary, Mother
of the Redeemer, who is a teacher of listening and of faithful
adherence to God. May the Virgin Most Holy help us to arrive
purified and renewed in mind and in spirit, to celebrate the great
mystery of Christ's Pasch. With these sentiments, I
wish you all a good and productive Lent.
To special groups:
I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including
groups from Denmark, Japan, Pakistan and the United States of
America. In particular, I greet the delegation of Christian, Jewish
and Muslim leaders from America and also the many students present
at this Audience. Upon all of you I invoke God's Blessings of joy
I address a cordial welcome to the Italian-speaking pilgrims. In
particular, I greet those taking part in the Plenary Meeting of the
Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences, accompanied by
Mons. Walter Brandmüller. Dear friends, thank you for your service
to the Holy See in the international field of historical studies;
continue on your way as researchers in a spirit of fidelity to the
Church and to historical truth.
Lastly, my thoughts go to the young people, the sick
and the newly-weds. May the Lenten Season that is beginning
today lead each one of you to a more intimate knowledge of Christ,
so that in your different situations you may have his same
sentiments and do everything in communion with him.
Copyright 2006 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana
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