Pope Benedict XVI, background center, flanked by Vatican security guards walks in a procession with other prelates at the Santa Sabina Basilica for Ash Wednesday prayer service, in Rome, Wednesday, Feb. 17 2010. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a solemn period of 40 days of prayer and self-denial leading up to Easter. (Daylife-AP)
Pictures courtesy of Daylife
LENT: CROSSING THE DESERT, ABANDONING OURSELVES TO GOD:
VATICAN CITY, 18 FEB 2010 (VIS) - Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, Benedict XVI presided over the traditional penitential procession from the church of St. Anselm on the Aventine Hill to the Basilica of Santa Sabina where he celebrated Mass. The Pope received ashes from Cardinal Jozef Tomko, Titular of the basilica and then distributed ashes to the cardinals and bishops present as well as to various faithful.
In his homily, the Pope stressed that the "absolute certainty" of God's love sustained Christ during the forty days he spent in the Judean desert. "That long time of silence and fasting for him was a complete abandonment to the Father and to His plan of love. (.) Going into the desert (.) meant voluntarily exposing himself to the enemy's attacks, to temptation" (.) and "entering into battle with him on the open field, defying him without any weapon other than his infinite trust in the Father's omnipotent love".
"Adam was expelled from the earthly paradise, the symbol of communion with God", the pontiff said. "Now, in order to return to that communion and thus to eternal life we must pass through the desert, the test of faith. Not alone but with Jesus (.) who proceeds us and who has already conquered in the fight against the spirit of evil. This is the meaning of Lent, the liturgical time that, each year, invites us to renew our decision to follow Christ on the path of humility in order to participate in his victory over sin and death".
It is from this perspective that we understand the penitential sign of the ashes, the Holy Father explained. "Essentially, they are a gesture of humility that means: I recognize myself for what I am, a fragile creature made of earth and destined to return to the earth, but also made in the image of God and destined to return to Him. Dust, yes, but dust that is loved and shaped by His love (.) capable of recognizing His voice and responding to Him; free and thus also capable of disobeying, of giving in to the temptation of pride and self- sufficiency".
"Sin", Benedict XVI stated, "basically consists in disobeying God, in a lack of love. (.) The first act of justice is recognizing one's own iniquity (.) rooted at the heart of each person (.) An expression of penitence is only worthy in God's eyes if it is the sign of a sincerely repentant heart. (.) The true reward is not the admiration of others but friendship with God and the grace that derives from Him, the grace that gives peace and the strength to do good".
"In Christ's heart, at the center of His human and divine person, the entire drama of freedom was wagered in decisive and definitive terms. God brought His plan of salvation to its ultimate consequences, remaining faithful in His love even at the expense of delivering His only Son to death. (.) Thanks to Christ's action we can enter in to the "greater" justice, which is the justice of love".
"Lent enlarges our horizon, orients us toward eternal life (.) it makes us to understand the relativity of earthly goods and thus enables us to make the necessary renunciations, frees us to do good", the Holy Father concluded.
Meaning of Lent:
A brief history of the imposition of the ashes can be found here.
Father Barron commentary on Lent, 2007: