"Why Lent? Why the Cross?" At Season's Start, the Pope Goes Prayin'
In substance [Lent] is a matter of following Jesus who turns decisively toward the cross, the culmination of this mission of salvation. If we ask: Why Lent? Why the cross? The answer, in radical terms, is this: because evil exists -- rather, sin, which according to Scripture is the deepest cause of every evil.In keeping with his custom on this First Sunday of the 40 Days, at 6pm Rome time tonight, the pontiff and his Curial chiefs began their weeklong Lenten retreat in the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the Apostolic Palace.
But this statement is not at all uncontroversial, and the word "sin" is not accepted by many, for it presupposes a religious vision of the world and of man. In effect this is correct: If we eliminate God from the horizon of the world, we cannot speak of sin. Just as when the sun is hidden the shadows disappear and the shadows appear only if the sun is there, so too the eclipse of God necessarily brings the eclipse of sin. Thus the meaning of sin -- which is a different thing from "guilt feelings" as these are understood in psychology -- is only grasped in discovering the meaning of God. The "Miserere" Psalm, attributed to David in the context of his twofold sin of adultery and homicide: "Against you," David says, turning to God, "against you alone I have sinned" (Psalm 51:6).
God's response to moral evil is to oppose sin and save the sinner. God does not tolerate evil because he is Love, Justice, Fidelity; and it is precisely because of this that he does not wish the death of the sinner, but desires that the sinner covert and live. God intervenes to save humanity: We see this in the whole history of the Jewish people, beginning with their liberation from Egypt. God is determined to deliver his children from slavery to lead them to freedom. And the worst and most profound slavery is that of sin. This is why God sent his Son into the world: to free men from the rule of Satan, "origin and cause of every sin."
He sent him in our mortal flesh so that he might become the sacrifice of expiation, dying for us upon the cross. The Devil sets himself with all of his forces against this plan of definitive and universal salvation, which is shown in particular by the Gospel of Jesus' temptations in the desert proclaimed every year on the first Sunday of Lent. In fact, entering into this liturgical season always means siding with Christ against sin, doing spiritual battle -- as an individual and as the Church -- against the evil spirit (collect prayer for Ash Wednesday).
As part of Benedict's de facto "Year of Wojtyla," set to culminate in his predecessor's 1 May beatification, the conferences, their focus on John Paul II, will be led by Discalced Carmelite Fr Francois-Marie Lethel, a professor at Rome's Teresianum.
"We must prepare ourselves, spiritually, for this beatification that will be an enormous grace for the Church," the Pope-tapped preacher said in advance of his talks, adding that "the holiness and the figure of John Paul II from a Christological dimension" will be the launching-point of the retreat.
During this week, the activity of the Roman Curia is traditionally curtailed to a significant degree, and all papal audiences are suspended.
In the trenches, however, little will seemingly let up.
(The shots above capture a set of the Stations of the Cross -- said to be the world's largest -- as they were set up on the Via della Conciliazione, to remain on the way to St Peter's Square until Easter, after which they'll return to their birthplace in Chile.)