Bookmark and Share

Lent 1999

Pope St John Paul II's Message
(cf Is 25, 6) - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

The Lord will prepare a banquet for all peoples

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The season of Lent which we are about to observe is yet another gift from God, who wants to help us to rediscover ourselves as his sons and daughters, created and made new through Christ by the love of the Father in the Holy Spirit.

1. The Lord will prepare a banquet for all peoples. These words which inspire the present Lenten Message lead us first to reflect upon the gracious providence of the Heavenly Father towards all men and women. We see this providence in the very act of creation, when God “saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31). It is then confirmed in the privileged relationship with the people of Israel, whom God chooses as his own people to begin the work of salvation. Finally, in Jesus Christ this gracious providence comes to its fulness: in him, the blessing of Abraham is shared with all peoples and through faith we receive the promise of the Spirit (cf. Gal 3:14).

Lent is the favourable time to offer to the Lord sincere thanks for the wonders he has done for humanity in every age, and especially in the Redemption when he did not spare his own Son (cf. Rom 8:32).

The discovery of God’s saving presence in the flux of human experience spurs us to conversion. It gives us the sense of being loved by God and impels us to praise and glorify him. With Saint Paul we repeat: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love” (Eph 1:3-4). God himself invites us to undertake a journey of penance and inner purification in order to renew our faith. He calls us ceaselessly to himself, and whenever we experience the defeat inflicted by sin he shows us the way back to his house, where we find again that unique loving care which he has lavished on us in Christ. Thus, gratitude fills our hearts because of the experience of love which the Father shows us.

2. The Lenten journey prepares us for the celebration of Christ’s Passover, the mystery of our salvation. Anticipating this mystery, there is the banquet which the Lord celebrates with his disciples on Holy Thursday, offering himself under the signs of bread and wine. In the Eucharistic celebration, as I wrote in the Apostolic Letter Dies Domini, “the Risen Lord becomes really, substantially and enduringly present. . . and the Bread of Life is offered as a pledge of future glory” (No. 39).

The banquet is a sign of joy, because in it we see the intense communion of all who take part. The Eucharist is therefore the realization of the banquet for all the peoples foretold by the Prophet Isaiah (cf. Is 25:6), and we cannot fail to see in it an eschatological meaning. Through faith, we know that the Paschal Mystery has already been accomplished in Christ; but it has still to be accomplished fully in each of us. In his Death and Resurrection, the Son of God has bestowed upon us the gift of eternal life, which begins in the Paschal Mystery but will have its definitive fulfilment in the eternal Easter of heaven. Many of our brothers and sisters can bear their situation of misery, discomfort and sickness only because they are certain that one day they will be called to the eternal banquet of heaven. Lent therefore directs our gaze beyond the present time, beyond history, beyond the horizon of this world, towards perfect and eternal communion with the Most Holy Trinity.

The blessing which we receive in Christ breaks down for us the wall of time and opens to us the door which leads us to a full share in the life of God. “Blessed are those invited to the wedding-banquet of the Lamb” (Rev 19:9): we cannot forget that in this banquet – anticipated in the Sacrament of the Eucharist – our life finds its final goal. Christ has gained for us not only new dignity in our life on earth, but above all the new dignity of the children of God, called to share eternal life with him. Lent invites us to overcome the temptation of seeing the realities of this world as definitive and to recognize that “our homeland is in heaven” (Phil 3:20).

3. In contemplating this wonderful call which comes to us from the Father in Christ, we cannot fail to see the love the Father has for us. This year of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 is meant to help us renew our sense that God is the Father who in the beloved Son shares with us his own life. From the history of salvation which he accomplishes with us and for us, we learn to live with new fervour the life of charity (cf. 1 Jn 4:10ff.) – the theological virtue which in my Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente I urged people to explore more deeply during 1999.

The experience of the Father’s love urges Christians to give of themselves to others, obeying a logic of service and solidarity in openness to their brothers and sisters. The arenas in which the Church through the centuries has borne witness to God’s love in her word and action are vast. Still today we see immense areas in which the work of Christians must bring to bear the charity of God. New forms of poverty and the pressing questions which trouble many hearts await a concrete and appropriate response. Those who are lonely, those on the margins of society, the hungry, the victims of violence, those who have no hope must be able to experience, in the Church’s loving care, the tenderness of the Heavenly Father who, from the very beginning of the world, has kept every individual in mind in order to fill each one with his blessings.

4. If we live Lent with our eyes fixed on the Father, it becomes a unique time of charity, manifested in our works of spiritual and corporal mercy. Our thoughts go especially to those excluded from the banquet of everyday consumerism. There are many like Lazarus who knock on the door of society – all those who have no share in the material benefits which progress has brought. There are situations of persistent misery which cannot but impinge upon the conscience of Christians, reminding them of their duty to address these situations both as individuals and as a community.

It is not only individuals who have opportunities to show their readiness to invite the poor to share in their prosperity. International institutions, national governments and the centres controlling the world economy must all undertake brave plans and projects to ensure a more just sharing of the goods of the earth, both within individual countries and in relations between nations.

5. Dear Brothers and Sisters, as we begin the journey of Lent I address this Message to you in order to encourage you along the path of conversion, a path which leads to an ever deeper knowledge of the mystery of goodness which God has in store for us. May Mary, Mother of mercy, strengthen us as we go. She knew the Father’s loving plan and was the first to welcome it; she believed and she is “blessed among women” (Lk 1:42). She was obedient in suffering and so was the first to share in the glory of the children of God.

May Mary comfort us with her presence; may she be “ a sure sign of hope” (Lumen Gentium, 68) and intercede with God, that there may be for us a fresh outpouring of divine mercy.

From the Vatican, 15 October 1998, Feast of St Teresa of Avila


Papa San Giovanni Paolo II's Catechesis on Ash Wednesday
General Audience, 17 February 1999 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. Today, with the austere ceremony of the distribution of ashes, the penitential journey of Lent begins. This year is particularly marked by the call to divine mercy: in fact we are in the Year of the Father, which prepares us directly for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

“Father, I have sinned ... before you” (Lk 15:18). In the season of Lent these words inspire strong feeling, since this is a time when the ecclesial community is invited to profound conversion. If it is true that sin closes man to God, on the other hand, a sincere confession of sins reawakens his conscience to the regenerating action of God's grace. In effect, man is not restored to friendship with God until the words “Father, I have sinned” flow from his lips and his heart. His efforts are then made effective by the encounter with salvation which takes place through Christ's Death and Resurrection. It is in the paschal mystery, the heart of the Church, that the penitent receives the gift of the forgiveness of his sins and the joy of being born again to eternal life.

2. In the light of this extraordinary spiritual reality, the parable of the prodigal son, in which Jesus wanted to tell us of the heavenly Father's tender mercy, becomes powerfully eloquent. There are three key stages in the story of this young man with whom, in a certain sense, each of us can identify when we yield to temptation and fall into sin.

The first stage: the distancing. We distance ourselves from God, like that son from his father, when we forget that the goods and talents we possess were given to us by God as a task and we thoughtlessly squander them. Sin is always a waste of our humanity, a waste of very precious values such as the dignity of the person and the inheritance of divine grace.

The second stage is the process of conversion. Man, who by sin voluntarily left his Father's house, realizes what he lost and gradually makes the decisive step of coming to himself: “I will arise and go to my Father” (Lk 15:18). The certainty that God “is good and loves me” is stronger than shame and discouragement: it sheds new light on one’s sense of guilt and personal unworthiness.

Lastly, the third stage: the return. The one important thing for the father is that his son has been found. The embrace between him and the prodigal son becomes a celebration of forgiveness and joy. This is a moving Gospel scene that reveals in full detail the attitude of our Father in heaven, who is “rich in mercy” (cf. Eph 2:4).

3. How many people throughout the ages have recognized in this parable the basic elements of their own story! The way that leads back to the Father's house after the bitter experience of sin comes through an examination of conscience, repentance and the firm intention to be converted. It is an interior process which changes the way one looks at reality; it makes a person realize his own frailty and it spurs the believer to throw himself into God's arms. When man, supported by grace, goes over these steps in his mind, he feels an acute need to rediscover himself and his own dignity as a son in the Father's embrace.

Therefore, this parable, so dear to the Church's tradition, expresses in a simple and profound way the reality of conversion, giving us the most concrete expression of the work of divine mercy in the human world. God's merciful love “promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man ... mercy constitutes the fundamental content of the messianic message of Christ and the constitutive power of his mission” (cf. Dives in misericordia, n. 6).

4. At the start of Lent, it is important to prepare our spirit to receive abundantly the gift of divine mercy. The Word of God warns us to repent and believe in the Gospel, and the Church indicates that prayer, penance, fasting and generous aid to our brethren are the means to enter into the atmosphere of authentic interior and community renewal. In this way we can experience the superabundant love of the heavenly Father, given in fullness to all humanity in the paschal mystery. We can say that Lent is the time of a particular concern on God's part to pardon and forgive our sins: it is the time of reconciliation. For this reason it is a most appropriate time for the fruitful reception of the sacrament of Penance.

Dear brothers and sisters, knowing that our reconciliation with God takes place through authentic conversion, let us begin our Lenten pilgrimage with our eyes fixed on Christ, our only Redeemer.

Lent will help us return to ourselves and courageously renounce whatever prevents us from faithfully following the Gospel. Especially in these days let us contemplate the image of the Father embracing the son who returned to his paternal home, which well symbolizes the theme this year that leads us into the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

The embrace of reconciliation between the Father and all sinful humanity took place on Calvary. May the Crucifix, sign of the love of Christ who sacrificed himself for our salvation, instil in the hearts of every man and woman of our time that same trust which prompted the prodigal son to say: “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned'”. He received the gift of forgiveness and joy.

* * * * *

Je salue les pèlerins francophones présents à cette audience, en particulier des membres de l’École de la Foi de Fribourg, un groupe du Séminaire diocésain de Villars-sur- Glâne, des jeunes de Lyon, Montbrison, Arbois et Reims. J’accorde à tous de grand cœur la Bénédiction apostolique.

I am happy to welcome all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims, especially those from England, Ireland, Japan and the United States of America. Upon you and your families, I invoke the strength and joy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mit dieser Einladung zur Bekehrung am Beginn der Fastenzeit, heiße ich alle Pilger und Besucher aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache willkommen. Unter Euch grüße ich insbesondere die Seminaristen der Diözese Fulda in Begleitung ihres Bischofs Johannes Dyba sowie alle Studenten aus Deutschland und Südtirol. Mein herzlicher Gruß gilt den Ministranten von Windischgarsten. Gern erteile ich Euch und Euren Lieben daheim sowie allen, die über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen mit uns verbunden sind, den Apostolischen Segen.

Saludo con afecto a los peregrinos de España, México, Chile y demás Países de América Latina. Saludo también al numeroso grupo de jóvenes deportistas argentinos aquí presentes. Al animaros a todos a recorrer el camino cuaresmal con la mirada puesta en Cristo, vencedor del pecado y de la muerte, invoco sobre vosotros y vuestras familias la infinita misericordia del Padre celestial y os bendigo de corazón.

A minha saudação cordial a todos os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, com a certeza de que Deus é bom e vos ama; nesta certeza, está a chave para superar hesitações, desânimos ou adiamentos no abraço reconciliador com o Pai do Céu. Sobre vós e vossos seres queridos, desça a minha Bênção.

Witam pielgrzymów Z Polski, w szczególności z Krakowa - Liceum Sióstr Prezentek, z Zabrza - grupę ze Szkoły Podstawowej nr 6, z Warszawy - Zespół Szkół Samochodowych nr 1, z Częstochowy i Katowic - kolejarzy, z Wodzislawia Śląskiego - parafię Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej oraz Orkiestrę Kopalni Węgla Kamiennego « Rydułtowy ».

Wszystkim pielgrzymom z Polski życzę, ażeby to, czego życzy nam Kościół w dniu Popielca, spełniało się. « Pamiętaj, człowieku, ze jesteś prochem i w proch się obrócisz » - to jedno życzenie, a drugie: « Nawracajcie się i wierzcie Ewangelii ». Jedno i drugie trzeba łączyć. Trzeba pamiętać o przemijalności człowieka na ziemi, a trzeba jeszcze bardziej pamiętać o wezwaniu przez Ewangelię do Królestwa Bożego.

Życzę wszystkim, ażeby to wezwanie w okresie Wielkiego Postu i Wielkanocy szczególnie mocno się odzywało w naszych sercach.

Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua romena

Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto ai pellegrini provenienti da Fagaras si Brasov, in Romania.

Carissimi, vi ringrazio di cuore per la vostra gradita visita, e mentre auspico che il tempo quaresimale, che stiamo per iniziare, valga a confermare la vostra fede e il vostro generoso impegno di testimonianza evangelica, volentieri benedico voi e le vostre famiglie.

* * *

Rivolgo un cordiale saluto a tutti i pellegrini italiani presenti, ed a ciascuno assicuro il mio ricordo nella preghiera, all'inizio di questo tempo quaresimale.

Abbraccio con affetto, in modo speciale, i giovani, i malati e gli sposi novelli.

Cari giovani, vi esorto a vivere la Quaresima con un autentico spirito penitenziale, come un ritorno alla casa del Padre, che tutti attende a braccia aperte. Cari malati, vi incoraggio ad offrire le vostre sofferenze insieme con Cristo per la conversione di quanti ancora si trovano lontano da Dio ed auguro a voi, cari sposi novelli, di costruire con coraggio e generosità la vostra famiglia sulla salda roccia dell'amore divino."

Papa San Juan Pablo II's Homily on Ash Wednesday
Basilica of St Sabina on the Aventine Hill, Rome - in English, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. "Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful..." (Jl 2:13).

With this exhortation taken from the book of the prophet Joel, the Church begins her Lenten pilgrimage, the acceptable time for returning: for returning to God from whom we have turned away. This, in fact, is the meaning of the penitential journey which starts today, Ash Wednesday: to return to the Father's house, bearing in our hearts the confession of our own guilt. The psalmist invites us to say over and over: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions" (Ps 50 [51]:1). With these sentiments, each of us sets out on the Lenten path, in the conviction that God the Father, who "sees in secret" (Mt 6: 4, 6, 18), goes out to meet the repentant sinner as he returns. As in the parable of the prodigal son, he embraces him and lets him understand that, by returning home, he has regained his dignity as a son: "he was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found" (Lk 15: 24).

In this year particularly dedicated to God the Father, Lent becomes even more important as an acceptable time for making an authentic journey of conversion, so that we may return with repentant hearts to the Father of all, who is "gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love" (Jl 2: 13).

2. The very ancient and moving rite of ashes today opens this penitential journey. While putting ashes on the heads of the faithful, the celebrant warns each of them: "Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return!" (cf. Gn 3:19).

These words also refer to a "return": the return to dust. They allude to the necessity of death and invite us not to forget that we are merely passing through this world.

At the same time, however, the expressive image of dust calls to mind the truth about creation with an allusion to the richness of the cosmic dimension of which the human creature forms a part. Lent recalls the work of salvation, to make man aware of the fact that death, a reality he must constantly face, is nevertheless not a primordial truth. Actually, it did not exist at the beginning, but, as the sad consequence of sin, it "entered the world through the devil's envy" (Wis 2:24), becoming the common inheritance of human beings.

More than to other creatures, the words: "Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return!" are addressed to man, created by God in his own image and placed at the centre of the universe. In reminding him that he must die, God does not abandon the initial plan, but rather confirms it and re-establishes it in an extraordinary way after the rupture caused by original sin. This confirmation came to pass in Christ, who freely assumed the burden of sin and willingly submitted to death. The world thus became the scene of his saving passion and death. This is the paschal mystery, to which the season of Lent directs us in a most special way.

3. "Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return!".

Human death was defeated by the death of Christ. If, then, the Lenten season directs us to relive the tragic events on Golgotha, it does so always and exclusively to prepare us to be later immersed in the fulfilment of the paschal event, that is, in the bright joy of the resurrection.

This is how we should understand the other exhortation that the Church addresses to the faithful during the distribution of ashes: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel" (Mk 1: 15). What does it really mean to "be faithful to the Gospel", if not to accept the truth of the resurrection with all it entails? From the very first day of Lent, therefore, we enter into this saving horizon, exclaiming with the psalmist: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.... O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise" (Ps 50 [51]:10, 15).

4. Lent is a time of intense prayer and extended praise; it is a time of penance and fasting. But along with prayer and fasting, the liturgy invites us to fill our day with works of charity. This is the worship pleasing to God! As I had occasion to recall in my Lenten Message, this is a fitting time for us to think of the too many who, like Lazarus, wait to collect a few crumbs that fall from the tables of the rich (cf. n. 4). The image before us is one of a banquet, the symbol of the heavenly Father's gracious providence towards all men and women (cf. n. 1). Everyone must be able to partake of it. For this reason, the Lenten practices of fasting and almsgiving not only express personsal asceticism, but also have an important social and community function: they recall the need to "convert" the model of development to a more just distribution of goods, so that everyone can live in dignity and, at the same time, creation itself may be protected.

All this, however, begins with a profound change of mentality and, more radically, with a conversion of heart. How urgent and timely, then, is this prayer: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me". Yes, O Father, create in us a clean heart; put a new and right spirit within us; "protect us in our struggle against evil ... make this day holy by our self-denial" (Opening Prayer). Amen!"



© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana