Pope Benedict XVI marked the beginning of Lent yesterday by presiding at a penitential procession and Mass at Rome’s Santa Sabina Basilica, where he told faithful that Lent, in many ways, illuminates the Christian battle, mirroring Christ’s own battle as he prepared for his public ministry with 40 days in the wilderness.
The Holy Father began the evening ceremony with a brief moment of prayer in the church of St. Anslem on Rome's Aventine Hill at 4:30, followed by the procession, Mass and traditional imposition of ashes.
He begun his homily by explaining that "The penitential procession with which we began today's celebration helped us to enter into the atmosphere typical of Lent, which is an individual and community pilgrimage of conversion and spiritual renewal."
The Pope went on to say that many popular Lenten rites, such as the imposition of the ashes, the Stations of the Cross, and visits to churches containing relics of the martyrs, maintain their significance over the centuries.
Namely, he said, this is "because they recall the importance, even in our own times, of the uncompromising acceptance of Jesus' words," and help us to understand "that exterior gestures must always be accompanied by sincerity of spirit and coherence of works."
The Holy Father also touched on what he called a “combative" aspect of Lenten spirituality, pointing out that "every day, but especially in Lent, Christians face a battle like the one Jesus faced in the desert."
Because of this, he said that the time of Lent in particular, should prompt the faithful to recall "that Christian life is a struggle without truce using the 'arms' of prayer, fasting and penance.”
“To fight against evil, against all forms of egoism and hatred,... is the ascetic journey which all Christ's disciples are called to undertake," he added.
Duty of Christian charity
Benedict told the crowd that "Meekly following the divine Master makes Christians witnesses and apostles of peace,” adding that “Such an attitude "helps us better to identify what the Christian response must be to the violence that threatens peace in the world: certainly not vengeance, not hatred, nor an escape into false forms of spirituality."
Instead, he stressed, the response of Christ's followers must be one of "following the road chosen by Him Who, in the face of the evil of His time and of all times, embraced the Cross, following the longer but more effective path of love."
This love, he said, "must be translated into concrete gestures towards others, especially towards the poor and needy," namely because it constitutes one of the "essential elements of the life of Christians.”
They must, the Pope said, be “encouraged by Christ to be the light of the world so that men and women, seeing their good works, may render glory to God."
In this light, Benedict concluded by saying that "at the beginning of Lent,” Christians must “gain an ever clearer understanding that 'for the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity. ... but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being'."