.- Pope John Paul II began Lent this morning calling on Catholics to live this season as “a journey of prayer, penitence and authentic Christian asceticism.” The Holy Father presided over a celebration of the word for Ash Wednesday in the Vatican Basilica during which ashes were blessed and distributed.
In his homily, John Paul II affirmed that “external gestures of penitence have value if they express an interior attitude, if they express the firm will to avoid evil and to take up the just path. It is here that the profound meaning of Christian asceticism lies.”
“‘Asceticism’: the word itself evokes an image of rising up toward higher goals. This necessarily involves sacrifice and self-denial. In order to become authentic disciples of Christ, it is necessary to deny oneself, take up the cross every day and follow Him. It is the arduous path of holiness which every baptized person is called to take,” he explained.
The Pope also said that Lent begins with the imposition of ashes, “an austere, penitential act that is highly esteemed in Christian tradition. It emphasizes the awareness of man who is a sinner before the majesty and sanctity of God. At the same time, it shows man’s willingness to embrace and translate adhesion to the Gospel into specific choices.”
John Paul II recalled that the Church indicates many ways of embarking on this path: “Above all, it is the humble and docile adhesion to the will of God, accompanied by incessant prayer; these ways are the typical penitential customs of Christian tradition, such as abstinence, fasting, mortification and giving up goods that are in and of themselves legitimate; there are the specific gestures of embracing our neighbor which today’s Gospel evokes with the word ‘alms’.”
“All of this is proposed again with greater intensity during the period of Lent which represents an ‘intense time’ of spiritual training and generous service to our brothers and sisters,” he added.