LENT, A TIME TO SHOULDER OUR CHRISTIAN RESPONSIBILITIES
During his general audience this morning, the Holy Father dedicated his catechesis to the subject of Lent (which begins today, Ash Wednesday), the period of forty days leading up to the Easter Triduum, memorial of the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Benedict XVI reminded the 7,500 pilgrims gathered in the Paul VI Hall that, in the early days of the Church, Lent was a time in which catechumens began their journey of faith and conversion prior to receiving Baptism. Later, all the faithful were invited to participate in this period of spiritual renewal. Thus “the participation of the whole community in the various stages of the Lenten journey underlines an important dimension of Christian spirituality: the fact that redemption is available not just for the few, but for everyone, thanks to Christ’s death and resurrection.”
“The time leading up to Easter is a time of ‘metanoia,’ a time of change and penance, a time which identifies our human lives and our entire history as a process of conversion, which begins to move now in order to meet the Lord at the end of time.”
The Church calls this period “Quadragesima”, a period of forty days which has precise references in Holy Scripture. Indeed, “forty is the symbolic number with which the Old and New Testaments represent the most important moments of the People of God’s experience of faith. It is a figure which expresses a time of expectation, purification, return to the Lord, awareness that God is faithful to His promises; . . . a time within which we must make our choice, shoulder our responsibilities without further delay. It is a time for mature decisions.”
Noah spent forty days in the Ark during the Flood, then had to wait forty days more before he could return to dry land. Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai to collect the Commandments. The Jewish People spent forty years wandering in the desert, then enjoyed forty years of peace under the government of the Judges. The inhabitants of Niniveh made forty days penance to obtain God’s forgiveness. The reigns of Saul, David and Solomon, the first kings of Israel, lasted forty years each. In the New Testament, Jesus spent forty days praying in the wilderness before beginning His public life and, following the resurrection, He spent forty days instructing His disciples before ascending to heaven.
The liturgy of Lent, the Pope explained, “has the aim of facilitating our journey of spiritual renewal in the light of this long biblical experience. Above all, it helps us to imitate Jesus Who, in the forty days He spent in the wilderness, taught us to overcome temptation through the Word of God. . . . Jesus went into the wilderness in order to be in profound contact with the Father. This was a constant aspect of Christ’s earthly life. He always sought out moments of solitude to pray to His Father and abide in intimate and exclusive communion with Him, before retuning among mankind. But in the ‘wilderness’ . . . Jesus was beset by temptation and the seduction of the Evil One, who suggested a messianic path, a path which was far from God’s plans because it involved power, success and dominion, not love and the total gift of self on the Cross.”
Benedict XVI went on to suggest that the Church herself is a pilgrim in the “wilderness” of the world and history. This wilderness is made up of “the aridity and poverty of words, life and values, of secularism and the culture of materialism which enclose people within a worldly horizon and detach them from any reference to transcendence. In such an atmosphere the sky above us is dark, because veiled with clouds of selfishness, misunderstanding and deceit. Nonetheless, even for the Church today, the wilderness can become a period of grace, because we have the certainty that even from the hardest rock God can cause the living water to gush forth, water which quenches thirst and restores strength.”
“During Lent,” said the Holy Father in conclusion, “may we discover fresh courage to accept situations of difficulty, affliction and suffering with patience and faith, aware that, from the darkness, the Lord will cause a new day to shine forth. And if we have been faithful to Jesus, following Him on the way of the Cross, the luminous world of God, the world of light, truth and joy, will be ours again.”
At the end of the catechesis Benedict XVI greeted pilgrims in various languages. Speaking Polish he highlighted how “fasting and prayer, penance and works of mercy” are the principal means of preparation for Easter.
The Pope also addressed a special greeting to faithful of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, who were present in the Paul VI Hall. The ordinariate was set up a little over a year ago for groups of Anglican clergy and faithful wishing to enter into full visible communion with the Catholic Church. The general audience ended with the apostolic blessing.
BRAZIL FRATERNITY CAMPAIGN: CARE FOR THE BODY AND SOUL OF THE SICK
The Holy Father has sent a Message to Cardinal Raymundo Damasceno Assis, archbishop of Aparecida and president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, for the Fraternity Campaign traditionally promoted by the Brazilian Church during Lent. The theme for the 2012 campaign is: “Health spreads over all the earth.”
In his Message the Pope recalls how the purpose of the campaign is “to arouse a greater fraternal and community spirit in caring for the sick, and to invite society to ensure that everyone has access to the means necessary for a healthy life.”
The biblical theme of the campaign — taken from Ecclesiasticus — reminds Christians that health goes beyond bodily well-being. When Jesus healed the paralytic, before causing the man to walk again, He forgave him his sins, “showing us that the perfect cure is the forgiveness of sin, Health par excellence is health of the soul, ‘for what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?’ In fact, in Latin the words for ‘health’ and ‘salvation’ have their roots in the same term, and in the Gospel the activity of the Saviour of mankind is associated with many episodes of healing.”
Benedict XVI expresses his hope that the campaign “may arouse increasingly profound solidarity with sick people in the hearts of the faithful, and of all people of good will. The sick often suffer more through solitude and abandonment than through their infirmity. We must remember the Jesus identified Himself with them: ‘I was sick and you took care of me.’ At the same time we must help them discover that, although sickness is a difficult trial, it can also, in union with the crucified and risen Christ, be a form of participation in the mystery of Jesus’ suffering for the salvation of the world. Indeed, ‘by offering our pain to God through Christ, we can share in the victory of good over evil, because God makes our offering, our act of love, fruitful.’”
The Pope concludes his Message by invoking the intercession of Our lady of Aparecida, that the Lord may grant everyone, and especially the sick, “comfort and strength in accomplishing the duties specific to their individual, family or social condition, that these may become a source of health and progress in Brazil, making it fertile in sanctity, economically prosperous, even-handed in the distribution of wealth, joyful in public service, equitable in power and fraternal in development.”
OTHER PONTIFICAL ACTS
The Holy Father:
• Appointed Bishop Jacinto Furtado de Brito Sobrinho of Crateus, Brazil, as metropolitan archbishop of Teresina (area 26,495, population 1,195,000, Catholics 1,018,000, priests 118, permanent deacons 19, religious 203), Brazil.
• Appointed Fr. Olivier de Germay of the clergy of the archdiocese of Toulouse, France, episcopal vicar and pastor of the “ensemble paroissial” of Bauzelle, as bishop of Ajaccio (area 8,722, population 275,000, Catholics 256,000, priests 75, permanent deacons 16, religious 69), France. The bishop-elect was born in Tours, France in 1960 and ordained a priest in 1998. He frequented a military academy before going to study at the French seminary in Rome. He has worked in pastoral care and as professor of sacramental and family theology at the “Institut Catholique” of Toulouse.
• Accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the diocese of Palmerston North, New Zealand, presented by Bishop Peter James Cullinane, upon having reached the age limit. He is succeeded by Coadjutor Bishop Charles Drennan.