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Lent 2006

Pope Benedict XVI's Message
(Mt 9, 36) - in Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Hungarian, Icelandic, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish & Swedish

"Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity"

Dear Brothers and Sisters!
Lent is a privileged time of interior pilgrimage towards Him who is the fount of mercy. It is a pilgrimage in which He Himself accompanies us through the desert of our poverty, sustaining us on our way towards the intense joy of Easter. Even in the “valley of darkness” of which the Psalmist speaks (Ps 23:4), while the tempter prompts us to despair or to place a vain hope in the work of our own hands, God is there to guard us and sustain us. Yes, even today the Lord hears the cry of the multitudes longing for joy, peace, and love. As in every age, they feel abandoned. Yet, even in the desolation of misery, loneliness, violence and hunger that indiscriminately afflict children, adults and the elderly, God does not allow darkness to prevail. In fact, in the words of my beloved Predecessor, Pope John Paul II, there is a “divine limit imposed upon evil”, namely, mercy (Memory and Identity). It is with these thoughts in mind that I have chosen as my theme for this Message the Gospel text: “Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity” (Mt 9:36). In this light, I would like to pause and reflect upon an issue much debated today: the question of development. Even now, the compassionate “gaze” of Christ continues to fall upon individuals and peoples. He watches them, knowing that the divine “plan” includes their call to salvation. Jesus knows the perils that put this plan at risk, and He is moved with pity for the crowds. He chooses to defend them from the wolves even at the cost of His own life. The gaze of Jesus embraces individuals and multitudes, and he brings them all before the Father, offering Himself as a sacrifice of expiation.

Enlightened by this paschal truth, the Church knows that if we are to promote development in its fulness, our own “gaze” upon mankind has to be measured against that of Christ. In fact, it is quite impossible to separate the response to people’s material and social needs from the fulfilment of the profound desires of their hearts. This has to be emphasized all the more in today’s rapidly changing world, in which our responsibility towards the poor emerges with ever greater clarity and urgency. My venerable predecessor, Pope Paul VI, accurately described the scandal of underdevelopment as an outrage against humanity. In this sense, in the encyclical Populorum Progressio, he denounced “the lack of material necessities for those who are without the minimum essential for life, the moral deficiencies of those who are mutilated by selfishness” and “oppressive social structures, whether due to the abuses of ownership or to the abuses of power, to the exploitation of workers or to unjust transactions” (21). As the antidote to such evil, Paul VI suggested not only “increased esteem for the dignity of others, the turning towards the spirit of poverty, cooperation for the common good, the will and desire for peace”, but also “the acknowledgement by man of supreme values, and of God, their source and their finality”. In this vein, the Pope went on to propose that, finally and above all, there is “faith, a gift of God accepted by the good will of man, and unity in the charity of Christ.” Thus, the “gaze” of Christ upon the crowd impels us to affirm the true content of this “complete humanism” that, according to Paul VI, consists in the “fully-rounded development of the whole man and of all men” (42). For this reason, the primary contribution that the Church offers to the development of mankind and peoples does not consist merely in material means or technical solutions. Rather, it involves the proclamation of the truth of Christ, Who educates consciences and teaches the authentic dignity of the person and of work; it means the promotion of a culture that truly responds to all the questions of man.

In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of the world’s population, indifference and self-centered isolation stand in stark contrast to the “gaze” of Christ. Fasting and almsgiving, which, together with prayer, the Church proposes in a special way during the lenten season, are suitable means for us to become conformed to this “gaze”. The examples of the saints and the long history of the Church’s missionary activity provide invaluable indications of the most effective ways to support development. Even in this era of global interdependence, it is clear that no economic, social, or political project can replace that gift of self to another through which charity is expressed. Those who act according to the logic of the Gospel live the faith as friendship with God Incarnate and, like Him, bear the burden of the material and spiritual needs of their neighbours. They see it as an inexhaustible mystery, worthy of infinite care and attention. They know that he who does not give God gives too little; as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta frequently observed, the worst poverty is not to know Christ. Therefore, we must help others to find God in the merciful face of Christ. Without this perspective, civilization lacks a solid foundation.

Thanks to men and women obedient to the Holy Spirit, many forms of charitable work intended to promote development have arisen in the Church: hospitals, universities, professional formation schools, and small businesses. Such initiatives demonstrate the genuine humanitarian concern of those moved by the Gospel message, far in advance of other forms of social welfare. These charitable activities point out the way to achieve a globalization that is focused upon the true good of mankind and, hence, the path towards authentic peace. Moved like Jesus with compassion for the crowds, the Church today considers it her duty to ask political leaders and those with economic and financial power to promote development based on respect for the dignity of every man. An important litmus test for the success of their efforts is religious liberty, understood not simply as the freedom to proclaim and celebrate Christ, but also the opportunity to contribute to the building of a world enlivened by charity. These efforts have to include a recognition of the central role of authentic religious values in responding to man’s deepest concerns, and in supplying the ethical motivation for his personal and social responsibilities. These are the criteria by which Christians should assess the political programmes of their leaders.

We cannot ignore the fact that many mistakes have been made in the course of history by those who claimed to be disciples of Jesus. Very often, when having to address grave problems, they have thought that they should first improve this world and only afterwards turn their minds to the next. The temptation was to believe that, in the face of urgent needs, the first imperative was to change external structures. The consequence, for some, was that Christianity became a kind of moralism, ‘believing’ was replaced with ‘doing’. Rightly, therefore, my predecessor, Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, observed: “The temptation today is to reduce Christianity to merely human wisdom, a pseudo-science of well-being. In our heavily secularized world, a ‘gradual secularization of salvation’ has taken place, so that people strive for the good of man, but man who is truncated…We know, however, that Jesus came to bring integral salvation” (Redemptoris Missio, 11).

It is this integral salvation that Lent puts before us, pointing towards the victory of Christ over every evil that oppresses us. In turning to the Divine Master, in being converted to Him, in experiencing His mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we will discover a “gaze” that searches us profoundly and gives new life to the crowds and to each one of us. It restores trust to those who do not succumb to scepticism, opening up before them the perspective of eternal beatitude. Throughout history, even when hate seems to prevail, the luminous testimony of His love is never lacking. To Mary, “the living fount of hope” (Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, XXXIII, 12), we entrust our lenten journey, so that she may lead us to her Son. I commend to her in particular the multitudes who suffer poverty and cry out for help, support, and understanding. With these sentiments, I cordially impart to all of you a special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, 29 September 2005


Papa Benedict's Homily at Holy Mass on Ash Wednesday
at the Basilica of St Sabina on the Aventine Hill
1 March 2006 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Your Eminences, Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The penitential procession with which we began today's celebration has helped us enter the typical atmosphere of Lent, which is a personal and community pilgrimage of conversion and spiritual renewal. According to the very ancient Roman tradition of lenten stationes, during this season the faithful, together with the pilgrims, gather every day and make a stop - statio - at one of the many "memorials" of the martyrs on which the Church of Rome is founded. In the Basilicas where their relics are exposed, Holy Mass is celebrated, preceded by a procession during which the litanies of the Saints are sung. In this way, all those who bore witness to Christ with their blood are commemorated, and calling them to mind then becomes an incentive for each Christian to renew his own adherence to the Gospel. These rites retain their value, despite the passing centuries, because they recall how important it also is in our day to accept Jesus' words without compromise: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9: 23).

Another symbolic rite, an exclusive gesture proper to the first day of Lent, is the imposition of ashes. What is its most significant meaning? It is certainly not merely ritualistic, but something very deep that touches our hearts. It makes us understand the timeliness of the prophet Joel's advice echoed in the First Reading, advice that still retains its salutary value for us: external gestures must always be matched by a sincere heart and consistent behaviour. Indeed, the inspired author wonders, what use is it to tear our garments if our hearts remain distant from the Lord, that is, from goodness and justice? Here is what truly counts: to return to God with a sincerely contrite heart to obtain his mercy. A new heart and a new spirit: we ask for this with the penitential Psalm par excellence, the Miserere, which we sing today with the response, "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned". The true believer, aware of being a sinner, aspires with his whole self - spirit, heart and body - to divine forgiveness, as to a new creation that can restore joy and hope to him (cf Ps 51[50]: 3, 5, 12, 14).

Another aspect of lenten spirituality is what we could describe as "combative", as emerges in today's "Collect", where the "weapons" of penance and the "battle" against evil are mentioned. Every day, but particularly in Lent, Christians must face a struggle, like the one that Christ underwent in the desert of Judea, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil, and then in Gethsemane, when he rejected the most severe temptation, accepting the Father's will to the very end. It is a spiritual battle waged against sin and finally against Satan. It is a struggle that involves the whole of the person and demands attentive and constant watchfulness. St Augustine remarks that those who want to walk in the love of God and in his mercy cannot be content with ridding themselves of grave and mortal sins, but "should do the truth, also recognizing sins that are considered less grave..., and come to the light by doing worthy actions. Even less grave sins, if they are ignored, proliferate and produce death" (In Io. evang. 12, 13, 35).

Lent reminds us, therefore, that Christian life is a never-ending combat in which the "weapons" of prayer, fasting and penance are used. Fighting against evil, against every form of selfishness and hate, and dying to oneself to live in God is the ascetic journey that every disciple of Jesus is called to make with humility and patience, with generosity and perseverance. Following the divine Teacher in docility makes Christians witnesses and apostles of peace. We might say that this inner attitude also helps us to highlight more clearly what response Christians should give to the violence that is threatening peace in the world. It should certainly not be revenge, nor hatred nor even flight into a false spiritualism. The response of those who follow Christ is rather to take the path chosen by the One who, in the face of the evils of his time and of all times, embraced the Cross with determination, following the longer but more effective path of love. Following in his footsteps and united to him, we must all strive to oppose evil with good, falsehood with truth, and hatred with love. In the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, I wanted to present this love as the secret of our personal and ecclesial conversion. Referring to Paul's words to the Corinthians, "the love of Christ urges us on", I stressed that "the consciousness that, in Christ, God has given himself for us, even unto death, must inspire us to live no longer for ourselves but for him, and, with him, for others" (33).

Love, as Jesus says today in the Gospel, must be expressed in practical acts for our neighbour, and especially for the poor and the needy, always subordinating the value of "good works" to the sincerity of the relationship with our "Father who is in Heaven", who "sees in secret" and "will reward" all whose good actions are humble and disinterested (cf Mt 6: 1, 4, 6, 18). The manifestation of love is one of the essential elements in the life of Christians who are encouraged by Jesus to be the light of the world, so that by seeing their "good works", people give glory to God (cf Mt 5: 16). This recommendation to us is particularly appropriate at the beginning of Lent, so that we may understand better and better that "for the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity... but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being" (Deus Caritas Est, 25). True love is expressed in acts that exclude no one, after the example of the Good Samaritan who, with great openness of heart, helped a stranger in difficulty whom he had met "by chance" along the way (cf Lk 10: 31).

Your Eminences, venerable brothers in the epsicopate and in the priesthood, dear men and women religious and lay faithful, all of whom I greet with warm cordiality, may we enter the typical atmosphere of this liturgical period with these sentiments, allowing the Word of God to enlighten and guide us. In Lent we will often hear re-echoing the invitation to convert and to believe in the Gospel, and we will be constantly encouraged to open our spirit to the power of divine grace. Let us cherish the abundance of teachings that the Church will be offering us in these weeks. Enlivened by a strong commitment to prayer, determined to make a greater effort of penance, fasting and loving attention to our brethren, let us set out towards Easter accompanied by the Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and model of every authentic disciple of Christ."

Benedict XVI's Catechesis on Ash Wednesday
General Audience, 1 March 2006 - in Croatian, English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, with the Ash Wednesday Liturgy, the lenten journey of 40 days begins that will lead us to the Easter Triduum, the memorial of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, heart of the mystery of our salvation. It is a favourable time when the Church invites Christians to have a keener awareness of the redeeming work of Christ and to live their Baptism in greater depth. Indeed, in this liturgical season, the People of God from the earliest times have drawn abundant nourishment from the Word of God to strengthen their faith, reviewing the entire history of creation and redemption.

With its 40-day duration, Lent has an indisputably evocative power. Indeed, it intends to recall some of the events that marked the life and history of ancient Israel, presenting its paradigmatic value anew also to us. We think, for example, of the 40 days of the great flood that led to God's Covenant with Noah, and hence, with humanity, and of the 40 days that Moses spent on Mount Sinai, after which he was given the Tables of the Law. The lenten period is meant to serve as an invitation to relive with Jesus the 40 days he spent in the desert, praying and fasting, in preparation for his public mission. Today we too, together with all the world's Christians, are spiritually setting out towards Calvary on a journey of reflection and prayer, meditating on the central mysteries of the faith. We will thus prepare ourselves to experience, after the mystery of the Cross, the joy of Easter.

Today, an austere and symbolic gesture is being made in all parish communities: the imposition of ashes, and this rite is accompanied by two formulas, full of meaning, that are a pressing appeal to recognize that we are sinners and to return to God. The first formula says: "Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you will return" (cf Gn 3: 19). These words of the Book of Genesis call to mind the human condition placed under the sign of transience and limitation, and are meant to spur us once again to place our every hope in God alone. The second formula refers to the words that Jesus spoke at the beginning of his itinerant ministry: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1: 15). This is an invitation to base our personal and community renewal on a firm and trusting attachment to the Gospel. The Christian's life is a life of faith, founded on the Word of God and nourished by it. In the trials of life and in every temptation, the secret of victory lies in listening to the Word of truth and
 with determination rejecting falsehood and evil. This is the true and central programme of the lenten season: to listen to the word of truth, to live, speak and do what is true, to refuse falsehood that poisons humanity and is the vehicle of all evils. It is therefore urgently necessary in these 40 days to listen anew to the Gospel, the Word of the Lord, the word of truth, so that in every Christian, in every one of us, the understanding of the truth given to him, given to us, may be strengthened, so that we may live it and witness to it. Lent encourages us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and thus to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what road to take in life. And thus, the season of Lent offers us an ascetic and liturgical route which, while helping us to open our eyes to our weakness, opens our hearts to the merciful love of Christ.

The lenten journey, by bringing us close to God, enables us to look 
 with new eyes at our brothers and their needs. Those who begin to recognize God, to look at the face of Christ, also see their brother with other eyes, discover their brother, what is good for him, what is bad for him, his needs. Lent, therefore, as a time of listening to the truth, is a favourable moment to convert to love, because the deep truth, the truth of God, is at the same time love. By converting to the truth of God, we must necessarily be converted to love; a love that knows how to make its own the Lord's attitude of compassion and mercy, as I wanted to recall in the Message for Lent, whose theme consists of the Gospel words: "Jesus, at the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity" (Mt 9: 36). Aware of her mission in the world, the Church never ceases to proclaim the merciful love of Christ, who continues to turn his compassionate gaze upon the people and peoples of every time. "In the face of the terrible challenge of poverty afflicting so much of the world's population", I wrote in this Message for Lent, "indifference and self-centred isolation stand in stark contrast to the "gaze' of Christ. Fasting and almsgiving, which, together with prayer, the Church proposes in a special way during the Lenten Season, are suitable means for us to become conformed to this "gaze'", to the gaze of Christ, and to see ourselves, humanity, others, with his gaze. In this spirit, let us enter the austere and prayerful atmosphere of Lent, which is truly an atmosphere of love for our brother.

May these be days of reflection and of intense prayer, in which we let ourselves be guided by the Word of God, which the liturgy offers to us in abundance. May Lent also be a time of fasting, penance and watchfulness of ourselves, and may we be convinced that the fight against sin is never-ending, because temptation is a daily reality and we all experience fragility and delusion. Lastly, through almsgiving and doing good to others, may Lent be an opportunity for sincere sharing of the gifts we have received 
with our brothers, and of attention to the needs of the poorest and most abandoned. On this penitential journey, may we be accompanied by Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, who is a teacher of listening and of faithful adherence to God. May the Virgin Most Holy help us to arrive purified and renewed in mind and in spirit, to celebrate the great mystery of Christ's Pasch. With these sentiments, I wish you all a good and productive Lent."