Pope Benedict XVI
"A Propitious Moment to Be Converted to Love"
VATICAN CITY, MARCH 1, 2006 (Zenit.org).
Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered during the
on Ash Wednesday, in St. Peter's Square.
* * *
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
We begin today, with the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, the 40-day Lenten journey
that will lead us to the Easter triduum, memorial of the Lord's passion,
death and resurrection, heart of the mystery of our salvation.
It is a propitious time in which the Church invites Christians to be more
intensely aware of Christ's redeeming work and to live our baptism more
profoundly. In fact, in this liturgical period, from the earliest times the
People of God nourished itself abundantly on the Word of God to be
reinforced in the faith, going over the whole history of creation and
With its duration of 40 days, Lent acquires an undoubted evocative force. It
tries to recall some of the events that marked the life and history of
ancient Israel, also presenting to us again its paradigmatic value: Let us
think, for example, of the 40 days of the universal flood, which ended with
the covenant established by God with Noah and thus with humanity, and of the
40 days of Moses' stay on Mount Sinai, which were followed by the gift of
the tablets of the Law.
Above all, the Lenten season is an invitation to relive with Jesus the 40
days he spent in the desert, praying and fasting, before undertaking his
Today we also undertake a journey of reflection and prayer with all
Christians worldwide to go spiritually to Calvary, meditating on the central
mysteries of the faith. In this way, we will prepare ourselves to
experience, after the mystery of the Cross, the joy of the Resurrection of
In all parish communities an austere and symbolic gesture is carried out
today: the imposition of ashes. And this rite is accompanied by two
formulas full of meaning which constitute an urgent call to acknowledge
ourselves sinners and to return to God. The first formula says: "Remember
that you art dust and to dust you shall return" (cf. Genesis 3:19). These
words, taken from the Book of Genesis, recall the human condition subjected
to the sign of corruption and limitation, and are intended to lead us to
place our hope in God alone.
The second formula refers to the words pronounced by Jesus at the beginning
of his itinerant ministry: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15).
It is an invitation to make firm and confident adherence to the Gospel the
foundation of personal and communal renewal.
The life of a Christian is a life of faith, founded on the Word of God and
nourished by it. In the trials of life and in each temptation, the secret of
victory consists in listening to the Word of truth and rejecting with
determination the lie of evil.
This is the authentic and central program of the Lenten Season: to listen to
the Word of truth, to live, speak and do the truth, to reject lies that
poison humanity and are the door to all evils. It is urgent, therefore,
during these 40 days, to again listen to the Gospel, the Lord's Word, Word
of truth, so that in every Christian, in each one of us, the awareness be
reinforced of the truth that has been given, that he has given us, to live
it and be his witnesses.
Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way
to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must
go, what path we must take in life. Thus, the Lenten season offers us an
ascetic and liturgical journey that, helping us to open our eyes in face of
our weakness, makes us open our hearts to the merciful love of Christ.
In bringing us closer to God, the Lenten journey allows us to see our
brothers and their needs with new eyes. Whoever begins to see God, to
contemplate the face of Christ, sees his brother with other eyes, discovers
his brother, his good, his evil, his needs.
For this reason, Lent, as a time of listening to the truth, it is a
propitious moment to be converted to love, as the profound truth -- the
truth of God – is, at the same time, love. A love that is able to assume the
Lord's attitude of compassion and mercy, as I wished to remind in the Lenten
Message, which has as its theme the words of the Gospel: "When [Jesus] saw
the crowds, he had compassion for them" (Matthew 9:36).
Conscious of her mission in the world, the Church does not cease to proclaim
the merciful love of Christ, who continues to direct his compassionate gaze
to the men and peoples of all times: "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'" (paragraph 3 [of Lenten Message]), the gaze of
Christ, and to see ourselves, humanity, others with his gaze. With this
spirit, we enter the austere and prayerful climate of Lent, which is, in
fact, a climate of love for one's brother.
May they be days of reflection and intense prayer, in which we let ourselves
be guided by the Word of God, which the liturgy proposes to us abundantly.
May Lent be, moreover, a time of fasting, penance and vigilance over
ourselves, aware that the struggle against sin never ends, as temptation is
a daily reality and frailty and illusion are everyone's experience.
Finally, may Lent be, through almsgiving, a time to do good to others; may
it be an occasion to share the gifts received with our brothers, to pay
attention to the needs of the poorest and the abandoned.
May Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, who is teacher of listening and faithful
adherence to God, accompany us on this journey of penance. Purified and
renewed in mind and spirit, may the Virgin Mary help us to celebrate the
great mystery of Christ's Pasch. With these sentiments I wish all a good and
[Translation by ZENIT]
[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father greeted pilgrims in several
languages. In English, he said:]
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we begin our Lenten journey, when the Church invites us to ponder
Christ's saving work, to live out more deeply the reality of our Baptism and
to draw rich nourishment from sacred Scripture. Above all, we are to relive
with Jesus the 40 days he spent in the desert, praying and fasting, in
preparation for his public mission. We join him in a spiritual journey, we
follow him on the road to Calvary, and after the mystery of the Cross, we
experience the joy of his Resurrection.
This day is marked by the solemn distribution of ashes. Two Scripture
passages are used to accompany the rite. The first, "remember that you are
dust and to dust you will return" (John 3:19), urges us to place our hope in
God alone. The second, "turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel"
(Mark 1:15), directs us to set out on the path of spiritual renewal,
rejecting evil and drawing life from Christ's saving truth.
The theme of my Lenten Message for this year is the Gospel text: "Jesus, at
the sight of the crowds, was moved with pity." We too are called to be
attentive to the needs of our suffering brothers and sisters as part of our
Lenten observance. Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, may we be
purified and renewed, as we prepare to celebrate the great feast of Easter.
I welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims here today, including groups
from Denmark, Japan, Pakistan and the United States of America. In
particular I greet the delegation of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders
from America and also the many students present at this audience. Upon all
of you I invoke God's blessings of joy and peace.