Over 10,000 people crowded the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall today to meet with Pope Benedict XVI for his weekly general audience. On this, the day when Catholics around the world celebrate Ash Wednesday, the Holy Father dedicated his catechesis to the subject of Lent.
"Today, Ash Wednesday," said the Pope, "we begin the Lenten journey, characterized by listening to the Word of God, by prayer and penance. Forty days during which the liturgy will help us to relive the principal moments of the Mystery of salvation."
For the baptized, Lent is a "new 'catechumenate' in which we return to our Baptism in order to rediscover it and experience it more profoundly. It is an occasion to go back to being Christian via a constant process of interior transformation, and of progress in the knowledge and love of Christ."
"Conversion," the Holy Father explained, is not something that happens once and for all, it is a process, a journey, that cannot be limited to a specific period but must embrace all existence."
"In this light," he went on, "Lent is an appropriate spiritual moment to train ourselves more earnestly to seek God, opening our hearts to Christ. Conversion means seeking God. It is not an effort of self-realization. Self-realization is a contradiction, and it is too little for us. We have a higher destiny. Conversion consists precisely in not thinking that one is the 'creator' of oneself, and thus discovering the truth."
The Holy Father then went on to refer to his Lenten Message for this year, in which he highlights "the immense love that God has for us," and invites Christians to remain "with Mary and John, the disciple Jesus loved, next to Him Who on the Cross gave his life for humanity."
"The Cross is the definitive revelation of love and divine mercy, also for us, men and women of our time too often distracted by worldly and momentary concerns and interests. God is love and His love is the secret of our happiness. To enter into this mystery of love there is no other way than that of losing ourselves, giving ourselves, the way of the Cross."
"For this reason," Benedict XVI concluded, "the liturgy of Lent invites us ... to reject sin and evil, and overcome selfishness and indifference, Prayer, fasting, penance and works of charity towards our brothers and sisters thus become spiritual paths to follow in order to return to God."