On Lent... and Lourdes
Translation in full:
Dear brothers and sisters!With exposition and Vespers, the Curia's annual Lenten Retreat begins tonight in the Vatican's Redemptoris Mater Chapel. Led this year by the French scripturalist Cardinal Albert Vanhoye SJ, the exercises run through Saturday morning.
Last Wednesday, with fasting and the rite of Ashes, we've entered into Lent. But what does it mean to "enter into Lent"? It means to begin a time of particular commitment in the spiritual combat that places us against the evil present in the world, in each one of us and around us. It's, so to say, looking evil in the face and fighting against its effects, above all against its causes, against its ultimate cause, Satan. It means not unloading the problem of evil onto others, on society or on God, but recognizing our own responsibilities and keeping that awareness about us. A resolution resonating especially urgently for us Christians is the call of Jesus to each take up our own "cross" and follow him with humility and trust (cf Mt 16:24). The "cross," however much it might weigh, is not synonymous with misfortune, a disgrace to be avoided whenever possible, but an opportunity to bring oneself to the following of Jesus and so to gain strength in the fight against sin and evil. To enter into Lent means above all renewing the personal and communitarian decision to confront evil together with Christ. The way of the Cross is, in fact, the only thing that leads to the victory of love over hate, of conversion over egotism, of peace over violence. Seen as such, Lent is truly an occasion of strong contemplative commitment and spirituality drawn from the grace of Christ.
This year the beginning of Lent providentially coincides with the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Lourdes. Four years after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Bl Pius IX, Mary first showed herself on 11 February 1858 to St Bernadette Soubirous in the grotto of Massabielle. Other apparitions followed accompanied by extraordinary events, and at their end the Holy Virgin bade her farewell to the young visionary, saying in the local dialect: "I am the Immaculate Conception." The message that the Madonna continues to spread at Lourdes recalls the words of Jesus at the beginning of his public mission, words which we hear anew many times in these Lenten days: "Repent and believe in the Gospel," pray and do penance. Let us welcome the call of Mary, echoing that of Christ, and ask her to obtain for us an "entrance" with faith into Lent, that we might live this time of grace with interior joy and generous commitment.
To the Virgin we entrust, too, the sick and the many who seek her loving care. Tomorrow, the memorial of the Madonna of Lourdes, is the celebration of the World Day of the Sick. I greet with all my heart the pilgrims who will come to St Peter's Basilica, led by Cardinal [Javier] Lozano Barragan, President of the Pontifical Council for Health. Although I won't be able to meet with them then given tonight's beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, in its silence and intensity I will pray for them and for all the needs of the church and the world. And to those who will remember me to the Lord, for now I say my sincere thanks.
Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae....
The Lourdes sesquicentenary continues until 8 December, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Its centerpiece is unfolding throughout the year in the form of 12 "missions" of outreach with groups including the young, ecumenical and inter-faith communities and the marginalized.
Led by Bishop Jacques Perrier of Lourdes, the missions are taking place across the globe.
PHOTO: AP/Alessandra Tarantino