Pope: Lent is a Great Spiritual retreat lasting Forty days
"The call to conversion is, then, an encouragement to return to the arms of God the tender and merciful Father." Pope Benedict XVI
"Today, as every year, we recommence the Lenten journey, stimulated by a more intense spirit of prayer and reflection, of penance and fasting", he said.
Lent, Benedict XVI continued, "helps us to rediscover the gift of faith we received at Baptism and encourages us to approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation, placing our commitment to inner conversion under the protection of divine mercy".
In today's liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that "we are limited creatures, sinners in constant need of penance and conversion. How important it is, in our own time, to listen to and accept this call!
When he proclaims his complete autonomy from God, modern man becomes self-enslaved, and often finds himself tormented and alone. The call to conversion is, then, an encouragement to return to the arms of God the tender and merciful Father, to trust in Him, and to entrust ourselves to Him as adoptive children regenerated by His love".
The Pope went on to ask whether "achievement of success, desire for prestige and pursuit of luxury, when they completely absorb a person's life to the point of excluding God from the horizon, truly lead to happiness. Can real happiness exist without God? Experience shows that satisfying material wants and needs does not lead to happiness, In truth, the only joy that fills the human heart is the joy that comes from God, because we have need of infinite happiness. Neither daily concerns nor the difficulties of life are able to extinguish the delight that comes from friendship with God".
Jesus' invitation to take up the cross and follow Him may seem a "harsh" rule that "quashes our desire for personal fulfilment", said the Holy Father, going on to highlight that, in fact, "the witness of the saints shows how in the Cross of Christ - in love given as a gift, renouncing the possession of self - is a profound serenity that is the source of generous dedication to our brothers and sisters, especially the poor and needy. And this also brings joy to us".
Echoing the Gospel, "the Church proposes a number of specific duties for the faithful on this itinerary of interior renewal: prayer, fasting, almsgiving", said Benedict XVI recalling how his own Message for Lent this year had focused on "the practice of almsgiving".
"Like the disciples of Jesus Christ", he concluded, "we are called not to idolise worldly goods, but to use them as a means to live and to help others in need, ... in imitation of Jesus Who, as St. Paul says, 'was poor to enrich us with his poverty'".
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