Pope Benedict XVI Instructs the Faithful on the Journey of Spiritual Renewal in the 40 Days of Lent
May you all have a good Lenten journey!
The Christian liturgy of Lent is intended to facilitate a journey of spiritual renewal in the light of this long biblical experience and especially to learn how to imitate Jesus, who in the forty days spent in the desert taught how to overcome temptation with the Word of God. (Pope Benedict XVI)
VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - We present the full text of the catechesis given by Pope Benedict XVI on Ash Wednesday:
Dear brothers and sisters,
In this Catechesis I would like to dwell briefly on the season of Lent, which begins today with the Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. It is a journey of forty days that will lead us to the Paschal Triduum, memorial of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, the heart of the mystery of our salvation.
In the early centuries of the Church this was the time when those who had heard and accepted the message of Christ began, step by step, their journey of faith and conversion to receive the sacrament of baptism. It was a drawing close to the living God and an initiation of the faith to be gradually accomplished, through an inner change in the catechumens, that is, those who wished to become Christians and thus be incorporated into Christ and the Church.
Subsequently, penitents, and then all the faithful were invited to experience this journey of spiritual renewal, to conform themselves and their lives to that of Christ. The participation of the whole community in the different steps of the Lenten path emphasizes an important dimension of Christian spirituality: redemption is not available to only a few, but to all, through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Therefore, those who follow a journey of faith as catechumens to receive baptism, those who had strayed from God and the community of faith and seek reconciliation and those who lived their faith in full communion with the Church, together knew that the period before Easter is a period of metanoia, that is, of inner change, of repentance, the period that identifies our human life and our entire history as a process of conversion that is set in motion now in order to meet the Lord at the end of time.
In an expression that has become typical in the Liturgy, the Church calls the period in which we are now entering "Quadragesima," in short a period of forty days and, with a clear reference to Sacred Scripture, it introduces us to a specific spiritual context. Forty is in fact the symbolic number in which salient moments of the experience of faith of the People of God are expressed; a figure that expresses the time of waiting, purification, return to the Lord, and the awareness that God is faithful to his promises.
This number does not represent an exact chronological time, divided by the sum of the days. Rather it indicates a patient perseverance, a long trial, a sufficient period to see the works of God, a time within which we must make up our minds and to decide to accept our own responsibilities without additional references. It is the time for mature decisions.
The number forty first appears in the story of Noah. This just man because of the flood spends forty days and forty nights in the ark, along with his family and animals that God had told him to bring. He waits for another forty days, after the flood, before finding land, saved from destruction (Gen 7,4.12, 8.6). Then, the next stop, Moses on Mount Sinai, in the presence of the Lord, for forty days and forty nights to receive the Law. He fasts throughout this period (Exodus 24:18). Forty, the number of years the Jewish people journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land, the right amount of time for them to experience the faithfulness of God:
"Remember how for these forty years the LORD, your God, has directed all your journeying in the wilderness... The clothing did not fall from you in tatters, nor did your feet swell these forty years, "says Moses in Deuteronomy at the end of the forty years of migration (Dt 8,2.4). The years of peace enjoyed by Israel under the Judges are forty (Judg. 3,11.30), but, once this time ended, forgetfulness of the gifts of God begins and a return to sin.
The prophet Elijah takes forty days to reach Horeb, the mountain where he meets God (1 Kings 19.8). Forty are the days during which the people of Nineveh do penance for the forgiveness of God (Gen 3.4). Forty were also the years of the reign of Saul (Acts 13:21), David (2 Sam 5:4-5) and Solomon (1 Kings 11:41), the first three kings of Israel. Even the biblical Psalms reflect on the meaning of the forty years, such as Psalm 95 for example, of which we heard a passage:
"If you would listen to his voice today! " Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert. There your ancestors tested me; they tried me though they had seen my works. Forty years I loathed that generation; I said: "This people's heart goes astray; they do not know my ways"(vv. 7c-10).
In the New Testament Jesus, before beginning of his public life, retires to the desert for forty days without food or drink (Matt. 4.2): he nourishes himself on the Word of God, which he uses as a weapon to conquer the devil. The temptations of Jesus recall those the Jewish people faced in the desert, but could not conquer. Forty are the days during which the risen Jesus instructs his disciples, before ascending to heaven and sending the Holy Spirit (Acts 1.3).
A spiritual context is described by this recurring number forty, one that remains current and valid, and the Church, precisely through the days of Lent, intends to maintain its enduring value and make us aware of its efficacy. The Christian liturgy of Lent is intended to facilitate a journey of spiritual renewal in the light of this long biblical experience and especially to learn how to imitate Jesus, who in the forty days spent in the desert taught how to overcome temptation with the Word of God.
The forty years of Israel's wandering in the desert present us with ambivalent attitudes and situations. On the one hand they are the first season of love between God and his people when He spoke to his heart, continuously indicating the path to follow to them. God had pitched his tent, so to speak, in the midst of Israel, He preceded it in a cloud or a pillar of fire, ensured its daily nourishment showering manna upon them, and bringing forth water from rock.
Therefore, the years spent by Israel in the desert can be seen as the time of the special election of God and adherence to Him by the people. The time of first love. On the other hand, the Bible also shows another image of Israel's wanderings in the desert: it is also the time of the greatest temptations and dangers, when Israel murmured against God and wanted to return to paganism and builds its own idols, as a need to worship a closer and more tangible God. It is also a time of rebellion against the great and invisible God.
This ambivalence, a period of special closeness to God, of first love and of temptation, the attempted return to paganism that characterized Israel in the desert, we find once again in a surprising way even in Jesus' earthly journey, of course without any compromise with sin. After his baptism of repentance in the Jordan, in which he takes upon himself the destiny of the Servant of Yahweh God who renounces himself and lives for others and places himself among sinners, to take upon himself the sins of the world, Jesus went to stay in the desert for forty days in deep union with the Father, thus repeating the history of Israel and all these rhythms of forty days a year.
This dynamic is a constant in the earthly life of Jesus, who always seeks moments of solitude to pray to his Father and remain in close and intimate communion with Him alone, and exclusive communion with Him, and then return among the people. But in these times of "desert" and special encounter with the Father, Jesus is exposed to danger and is assailed by temptation and the seduction of devil, who offers him another messianic way, far from God's plan, because it passes through power, success, dominion and not through the total gift on the Cross. This is the alternative, messianism of power, of success, not messianism of gift and love of self.
This ambivalence also describes the condition of the pilgrim Church in the "desert" of the world and history. In this "desert" we believers certainly have the opportunity to profoundly experience God, an experience that makes the spirit strong, confirms the faith, nourishes hope, animates charity; an experience that makes us partakers of Christ's victory over sin and death through the Sacrifice of love on the Cross.
But the "desert" is also the negative aspects of the reality that surrounds us: the arid, the poverty of words of life and of values, secularism and the materialist culture, which shut people within a horizon of mundane existence, robbing them of all reference to transcendence. And this is also the environment in which the sky above us is obscured, because covered by the clouds of egoism, misunderstanding and deception. Despite this, even for the Church of today the time of the desert can be transformed into a time of grace, because we have the certainty that even from the hardest rock God can bring forth the living water that refreshes and restores.
Dear brothers and sisters, in these forty days that will lead us to Easter may we find new courage to accept with patience and with faith situations of difficulty, of affliction and trial, knowing that from the darkness the Lord will make a new day dawn. And if we are faithful to Jesus and follow him on the way of the Cross, the bright world of God, the world of light, truth and joy will be gifted to us once more: it will be the new dawn created by God himself. May you all have a good Lenten journey!
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for November 2014
Lonely people: That all who suffer loneliness may experience the closeness of God and the support of others.
Mentors of seminarians and religious: That young seminarians and religious may have wise and well-formed mentors.
Rate This Article
Leave a Comment
More Lent / Easter News
- 4th Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross
- 3rd Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns
- Good Friday Reflection on the Nature of Sin
- Lent is almost over, but have YOU kept this Commandment?
- 5th Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion
- Holy Thursday: Take Up the Basin and Towel. Love is a Verb.
- Holy Thursday: He Loves to the End
- 2nd Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar
- The Precious and Life-Giving Cross of Christ
- Fr. Paul Schenck: Finding Living Faith on Catechetical Sunday
- The Movie Yellow: Incest as 'Normal' and Cassavates's Slides Into the World of Woes
- The Chicago School Teachers Strike Reveals the Need For School Choice
- The Sexual Barbarians and the Dissolution of Culture
- The Happy Priest Challenges Us to Ask: Who is Jesus to Me?
- Michael Coren on Canadian Public Schools: Teachers, leave those kids alone
- We Cannot Ignore Our Consciences: Cardinal Dolan On Religious Liberty
- In the Face of Danger, Successor of Peter Travels to Lebanon as a Messenger of Peace
- Reflections on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: Who or What?
More Easter / Lent
'So it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead' - Luke 24:46
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption. continue reading
Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in all four canonical Gospels. (Mark 11:1.11, Matthew 21:1.11, Luke 19:28.44, and John 12:12.19) ... continue reading
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the first joy of the season, as we celebrate Our Lord's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where he was welcomed by crowds worshiping him and laying down palm leaves before him. It also marks the beginning of Holy Week... continue reading
HOLY THURSDAY is the most complex and profound of all religious observances. It celebrates his last supper with the disciples, a celebration of Passover ... continue reading
On Good Friday, each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption. In the solemn ceremonies of Holy Week we unite ourselves to our Savior, and we contemplate our own death to sin in the Death of our Lord ... continue reading
Easter is the principal feast of the ecclesiastical year. Leo I (Sermo xlvii in Exodum) calls it the greatest feast (festum festorum), and says that Christmas is celebrated only in preparation for Easter. It is the centre of the greater part of the ecclesiastical year ... continue reading
For most people the easiest practice to consistently fulfill will be the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory in the United States as elsewhere. Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed (Lk. 5:35). continue reading
Everything answered from when does lent end, ashes, giving something up, stations of the cross and blessed palms. The key to understanding the meaning of Lent is simple: Baptism... continue reading
Stations of the Cross refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion. First Station: Jesus is condemned to death... pray the stations now
What did you give up for Lent?
From the humorous to the bizarre, people have had interesting Lenten experiences. Tell us about what you are going to give up for this Lenten Year.
What others gave up »
Jennifer Hartline - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
This Sorrowful pilgrimage now brings me here to this lonely hill. All the agony, the beatings and the bleeding have led me somewhere I do not want to go; somewhere I resist going with all my ...Continue Reading
Jennifer Hartline - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
I wonder if perhaps it was tempting for Jesus to just lie down on the dirt road and die right there. Completely sapped of strength and in agonizing pain, I wonder if He was tempted by the ...Continue Reading
Jennifer Hartline - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
Humiliation, in one form or another, is part of the package. It is only avoidable if we decide to deny Christ. WASHINGTON, D.C. (Catholic Online) - 3rd Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning ...Continue Reading
Michael Terheyden - Catholic Online, 4/18/2014
The Passion of Christ represents the most atrocious miscarriage of justice in all of human history. So when we come face to face with the crucified Christ on Good Friday, it is only natural for us to ...Continue Reading
On Good Friday, the entire Church fixes her gaze on the Cross at Calvary. Each member of the Church tries to understand at what cost Christ has won our redemption.
In the symbol of the Cross we can see the magnitude of the human tragedy, the ravages of original sin, and the infinite love of God. Learn More
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ's Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.
The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. Learn More
Stations of the Cross refers to the depiction of the final hours (or Passion) of Jesus, and the devotion commemorating the Passion.
ACT OF CONTRITION. O my God, my Redeemer, behold me here at Thy feet. From the bottom of my heart... Pray the Stations
'Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed' Lk. 5:35
Abstinence. The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted.
Fasting. The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday (Canon 97) to the 59th Birthday (i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday) to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal.
Learn More »