Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Time for "True Conversion"

From today's General Audience:
"We know to what extent, unfortunately, the lure of material riches pervades modern life", Benedict XVI said, who on the first day of Lent wanted to recall that Christians "are called not to idolize earthly goods", and to look at them instead as a means for helping others in need. For this reason, he indicated almsgiving as one of the practices helpful for conversion, a characteristic element of this time.

Historically, the pope recalled, Lent was the period when Christians prepared for baptism, which would take place during the Easter vigil. It was a "true conversion", and this is still the fundamental character of Lent today. This period "prompts us to stamp a more decisive impulse on our Christian existence", because "commitments and busyness" put us at risk of “forgetting the adventure in which Jesus has involved us". For this reason, at the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, the celebrant says "remember that you are dust", or repeats the words of Jesus, "reform your lives": "both of these formulas are a reminder of the truth of human existence. We are limited creatures, sinners who require penance and conversion". But when "he proclaims his total autonomy from God, man becomes his own slave and often finds himself in dejected solitude".

The time of Lent is, therefore, the terrain of an interior journey through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Recalling that in this year's message for Lent he emphasized the practice of almsgiving, the pope described this as a "concrete way of helping those who are in need " and "at the same time an ascetic exercise to free oneself from the temptation of material riches", following the example of Jesus. In his school, we can "learn to make a gift of our lives", to "make ourselves available not so much to give something that we possess, but rather ourselves". The Gospel, he repeated in the words of his Lenten message, "is summarized in the commandment of charity".

So when almsgiving is done in a profound spirit of faith, it becomes a means of realizing ourselves: "experience demonstrates that one is not made happy by satisfying one's material needs. We need the infinite joy represented by God ".
Roman Lent begins at 1630 local time (1530UTC; 10.30am Eastern) with the penitential procession along the Aventine Hill, followed by the Pope's Ash Wednesday liturgy at Santa Sabina. EWTN will stream the Mass live.