During today’s general audience, Pope Benedict XVI invited the faithful make the “Lenten journey” together with Christ, to return to the grace and commitment of conversion, and reach Easter “renewed.”
More than 7,000 pilgrims and faithful were on hand at the Vatican's Paul VI Hall during the March 9 general audience. The gathering coincided with Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent.
The “austere symbol of the ashes” are the beginning of the spiritual path that leads to Easter, said the Pope. They are “a sign reminding us of our status as created beings and inviting us to penance, to intensify our commitment to conversion so as to continue following the Lord.”
At Ash Wednesday Masses all over the world, priests mark the beginning of Lent by making a sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a physical symbol of repentance and the temporary nature of earthly life.
“Lent is a journey,” said Pope Benedict. “It means accompanying Jesus as he travels to Jerusalem, the place where the mystery of his passion, death and resurrection is to be fulfilled.”
The season is a reminder to Christians of "the road to be traveled, consisting not so much in a law to be observed as in the person of Christ himself, who must be encountered, welcomed and followed."
This is experienced most of all through the liturgy in which believers are drawn closer to the figure of Christ by reliving the very events that granted man his salvation, he explained.
"Participating in the liturgy means then emerging our lives in the mystery of Christ, in his permanent presence, walking a path in which we enter into his death and resurrection to have life."
Pope Benedict explained that the liturgical readings of the Sundays of Lent—which were used in ancient times to prepare Christians for baptism—offer an opportunity for the faithful to return to the foundation of Christian life in a "baptismal itinerary."
"They are the great announcement of what God carries out in this Sacrament, a stupendous baptismal catechesis directed at each of us," he said.
Pope Benedict then walked through the successive readings for the Sundays of Lent.
The first Sunday's liturgy describes the temptation of Jesus in the desert, through which all Christians are invited "to renew our definitive choice for God, and courageously to face the struggle that awaits us in remaining faithful to Him," he said.
On the second Sunday, the "Sunday of Abraham," the faithful are invited to "abandon the certainties we have constructed and place our faith in God," said the Pope.
The three following Sundays present baptism as water, light and life, he explained. The Samaritan woman serves as a reminder that "we too received the water that saves."
Jesus gives the blind man sight, which shows that through Baptism man is liberated and receives the light of Christ.
And finally, Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead on the final Sunday before Easter teaches about life. "In Baptism," explained the Pope, "we pass from death to life and become capable of pleasing God, of causing the 'old man' to die so as to live in the spirit of the Risen One."
The Lenten experience is deepened through fasting, almsgiving and prayer, and the period invites "a more trusting and intense prayer" and greater meditation on Scripture, he said.
"On this Lenten journey, let us be attentive to welcoming Christ's invitation to follow him more decisively and coherently, renewing the grace and commitments of our Baptism, so as to ... clothe ourselves in Christ, thus reaching Easter renewed and being able to say with St. Paul 'it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me'."