On the 40 Days of Lent
“God Is Love and His Love Is the Secret of Our Happiness”
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 21, 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
Ash Wednesday, which we celebrate today, is for us Christians a particular day, characterized by an intense spirit of recollection and reflection. We begin, in fact, the Lenten journey, time of listening to the word of God, of prayer and of penance. They are 40 days in which the liturgy will help us to relive the important phases of the mystery of salvation.
As we know, man was created to be a friend of God, but the sin of our first parents broke this relationship of trust and love and, as a consequence, humanity is incapable of fulfilling its original vocation.
Thanks, however, to the redeeming sacrifice of Christ, we have been rescued from the power of evil: Christ, in fact, writes the apostle John, has been the victim of expiation of our sins (cf. 1 John 2:2); and St. Peter adds: “Christ also died for sins once for all” (cf. 1 Peter 3:18).
On dying with Christ to sin, the baptized person is also reborn to a new life and is freely re-established in his dignity as son of God. For this reason, in the early Christian community, baptism was considered as the “first resurrection” (cf. Revelation 20:5; Romans 6:1-11; John 5:25-28).
From the beginning, therefore, Lent was lived as the time of immediate preparation for baptism, which is administered solemnly during the paschal vigil. The whole of Lent was a journey toward this great encounter with Christ, toward immersion in Christ and the renewal of life.
We are already baptized, but often baptism is not very effective in our daily life. Therefore, Lent is also for us a renewed “catechumenate” in which we again go out to encounter our baptism and rediscover and relive it in depth, to again be really Christians.
Therefore, Lent is an opportunity to “be” Christians “again,” through a constant process of interior change and of progress in knowledge and love of Christ. Conversion never takes place once and for all, but is a process, an interior journey of our whole life. Certainly this journey of evangelical conversion cannot be limited to a particular period of the year: It is a journey of every day which must embrace our whole existence, every day of our lives.
From this point of view, for every Christian and for all ecclesial communities, Lent is the appropriate spiritual season to train with greater tenacity in the search for God, opening the heart to Christ.
St. Augustine said on one occasion that our life is the sole exercise of the desire to come close to God, of being able to let God enter into our being. “The whole life of the fervent Christian,” he says, “is a holy desire.” If this is so, in Lent we are invited even more to uproot “from our desires the roots of vanity” to educate the heart in the desire, that is, in the love of God. “God,” says St. Augustine, “is all that we desire” (cf. “Tract. in Iohn,” 4). And we hope that we really begin to desire God, and in this way desire true life, love itself and truth.
Particularly appropriate is Jesus’ exhortation, recorded by the Evangelist Mark: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). The sincere desire for God leads us to reject evil and to do good. This conversion of the heart is above all a free gift of God, who created us for himself and has redeemed us in Jesus Christ: Our happiness consists in remaining in him (cf. John 15:3). For this reason, he himself anticipates our desire with his grace and supports our efforts of conversion.
But what does conversion really mean? Conversion means to seek God, to walk with God, to follow docilely the teachings of his Son, Jesus Christ; to be converted is not an effort to fulfill oneself, because the human being is not the architect of his own destiny. We have not made ourselves. Therefore, self-fulfillment is a contradiction and is too little for us. We have a higher destiny.