.- Pope Benedict marked the beginning of the Lenten season today by speaking about Ash Wednesday and calling Catholics “to return to God… to discover authentic freedom and joy.”
“Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our annual Lenten journey of prayer and penance. In the early Church, Lent was the time when catechumens prepared for Baptism, accompanied by the prayers of the whole Christian community,” Pope Benedict said.
Speaking to the crowds of faithful in the Paul the VI Hall, the Holy Father continued by saying that it is only God alone who can satisfy our deepest longing for Lenten spiritual renewal.
“Today, too, the Lenten season is a privileged moment of conversion and spiritual renewal for the whole Church. The rite of the imposition of ashes is a summons to return to God and, in doing so, to discover authentic freedom and joy. Jesus reminds us that only by “losing” our life will we truly “find” it. Our ultimate fulfillment is found in God alone, who satisfies our deepest longings. By taking up our cross and following the Lord, we experience redemption, inner peace and loving solidarity with our brothers and sisters.”
The Pope returned to the theme of almsgiving during Lent which had been a prevalent part of his Lenten message.
“During Lent, in addition to prayer and fasting, the Church invites us to practice almsgiving as an expression of our desire to imitate Christ’s own self-giving and his generous concern for others. As we set out once again on this journey of spiritual renewal, may Mary, Mother of the Church, guide us to a fruitful celebration of Easter,” he said.
Towards the end of his audience, the Holy Father greeted all the English speaking pilgrims present including participants from the Graduate School of the Bossey Ecumenical Institute based in Switzerland offering them his prayerful encouragement.
The audience concluded with the Pope imparting his apostolic blessing upon the gathered faithful.