POPE BENEDICT XVI ON THE 1ST SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A
St Peter’s Square
1st Sunday of Lent Year A, 13 March 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This is the First Sunday of Lent, the liturgical Season of 40 days which constitutes a spiritual journey in the Church of preparation for Easter. Essentially it is a matter of following Jesus who is walking with determination towards the Cross, the culmination of his mission of salvation. If we ask ourselves: “Why Lent? Why the Cross?”, the answer in radical terms is this: because evil exists, indeed sin, which according to the Scriptures is the profound cause of all evil. However this affirmation is far from being taken for granted and the very word “sin” is not accepted by many because it implies a religious vision of the world and of the human being.
In fact it is true: if God is eliminated from the world’s horizon, one cannot speak of sin. As when the sun is hidden, shadows disappear. Shadows only appear if the sun is out; hence the eclipse of God necessarily entails the eclipse of sin. Therefore the sense of sin — which is something different from the “sense of guilt” as psychology understands it — is acquired by rediscovering the sense of God. This is expressed by the Miserere Psalm, attributed to King David on the occasion of his double sin of adultery and homicide: “Against you”, David says, addressing God, “against you only have I sinned” (Ps 51(50):6).
In the face of moral evil God’s attitude is to oppose sin and to save the sinner. God does not tolerate evil because he is Love, Justice and Fidelity; and for this very reason he does not desire the death of the sinner but wants the sinner to convert and to live. To save humanity God intervenes: we see him throughout the history of the Jewish people, beginning with the liberation from Egypt. God is determined to deliver his children from slavery in order to lead them to freedom. And the most serious and profound slavery is precisely that of sin.
For this reason God sent his Son into the world: to set men and women free from the domination of Satan, “the origin and cause of every sin”. God sent him in our mortal flesh so that he might become a victim of expiation, dying for us on the Cross. The Devil opposed this definitive and universal plan of salvation with all his might, as is shown in particular in the Gospel of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness which is proclaimed every year on the First Sunday of Lent. In fact, entering this liturgical season means continuously taking Christ’s side against sin, facing — both as individuals and as Church — the spiritual fight against the spirit of evil each time (Ash Wednesday, Opening Prayer).
Let us therefore invoke the maternal help of Mary Most Holy for the Lenten journey that has just begun, so that it may be rich in fruits of conversion. I ask for special remembrance in prayer for myself and for my co-workers in the Roman Curia, as we shall begin the week of Spiritual Exercises this evening .
St Peter’s Square
1st Sunday of Lent Year A, 10 February 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last Wednesday, we entered Lent with fasting and the Rite of Ashes. But what does “entering Lent” mean? It means we enter a season of special commitment in the spiritual battle to oppose the evil present in the world, in each one of us and around us. It means looking evil in the face and being ready to fight its effects and especially its causes, even its primary cause which is Satan.
It means not off-loading the problem of evil on to others, on to society or on to God but rather recognizing one’s own responsibility and assuming it with awareness. In this regard Jesus’ invitation to each one of us Christians to take up our “cross” and follow him with humility and trust (cf. Mt 16: 24) is particularly pressing. Although the “cross” may be heavy it is not synonymous with misfortune, with disgrace, to be avoided on all accounts; rather it is an opportunity to follow Jesus and thereby to acquire strength in the fight against sin and evil. Thus, entering Lent means renewing the personal and community decision to face evil together with Christ. The way of the Cross is in fact the only way that leads to the victory of love over hatred, of sharing over selfishness, of peace over violence. Seen in this light, Lent is truly an opportunity for a strong ascetic and spiritual commitment based on Christ’s grace.
This year the beginning of Lent providentially coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Apparitions in Lourdes. Four years after the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Blessed Pius IX, Mary appeared to St Bernadette Soubirous for the first time on 11 February 1858 in the Grotto of Massabielle. Another three Apparitions accompanied by extraordinary events followed in succession and finally the Blessed Virgin took her leave of the young seer, in the local dialect, by disclosing to her: “I am the Immaculate Conception”. The message that Our Lady continues to spread in Lourdes recalls the words that Jesus spoke at the very beginning of his public mission, which we hear several times during these days of Lent: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”, pray and do penance. Let us accept Mary’s invitation which echoes Christ’s and ask her to obtain for us that we may “enter” Lent with faith, to live this season of grace with inner joy and generous commitment.
Let us also entrust to the Virgin the sick and all who take loving care of them. Indeed, the World Day of the Sick will be celebrated tomorrow, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. I wholeheartedly greet the pilgrims who will be gathering in St Peter’s Basilica, led by Cardinal Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care. Unfortunately I shall not be able to meet them because this evening I will begin Spiritual Exercises, but in silence and recollection I will pray for them and for all the needs of the Church and of the world. To all who desire to remember me to the Lord, I offer my sincere thanks from this moment.
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