Address at the Ash Wednesday General Audience

«We Must Change Our Way of Thinking and Acting»

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 28, 2001 ( Here is a translation of John Paul II´s address at today´s general audience.

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1. «Do not harden your heart today, but listen to the voice of the Lord.» This invitation of the liturgy resounds in our spirit, as we begin our Lenten journey today, Ash Wednesday. It will lead us to the paschal triduum, living memory of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord, heart of the mystery of our salvation. The sacred time of Lent, always lived intensely by Christian people, recalls ancient biblical events, such as the forty days of the universal flood, prelude to the pact of alliance sanctioned by God with Noah; the forty years of the pilgrimage of Israel in the desert toward the Promised Land; the forty days that Moses remained on Mount Sinai, where he received the Tablets of the Law from Yahweh. The Lenten period invites us especially to relive with Jesus the forty days he spent praying and fasting in the desert, before undertaking his public mission, which would culminate on Calvary with the sacrifice of the cross, final victory over sin and death.

2. «Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return.» The traditional rite of the imposition of ashes, repeated today, is always very eloquent and the words that accompany it are very indicative. In its simplicity, it evokes the transience of earthly life: Everything passes and is destined to die. We are sojourners in this world. Sojourners who must not forget their true and final end: heaven. If, in fact, we are dust and destined to become dust, this, however, does not put an end to everything. Man, created in the image and likeness of God, is for eternal life. Jesus, dying on the cross, has unlocked the access to it for every human being.

The entire liturgy of Ash Wednesday helps us to focus on this fundamental truth of faith, and stimulates us to undertake a decisive journey of personal renewal. We must change our way of thinking and acting, fixing our eyes on the face of the crucified Christ and making his Gospel our daily rule of life. «Be converted and believe in the Gospel»: May this be our Lenten program, while we enter an atmosphere of prayerful listening to the Spirit.

3. «Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak» (Matthew 26:41). Let us be guided by these words of the Lord, in a determined effort of conversion and spiritual renewal. In everyday life there is the risk of being absorbed by occupations and material interests. Lent is a favorable time for a reawakening to authentic faith, for a salutary restoration of our relation with God, and for a more generous commitment to the Gospel. The means are always at our disposal, but in these weeks, we must take more intense recourse to them: prayer, fasting and penance, as well as almsgiving, that is, sharing what we have with the needy. This is a personal and communal ascetic way, which sometimes seems particularly arduous because of the secularized atmosphere that surrounds us. However, precisely because of this, our effort must be stronger and more determined.

«Watch and pray.» If this command of Christ is valid at all times, it seems more eloquent and incisive at the beginning of Lent. Let us accept it with humble docility. Let us be willing to translate it into practical gestures of conversion and reconciliation with brothers. Only in this way is faith reinvigorated, hope consolidated, and love becomes the style of life that characterizes the believer.

4. The result of such a courageous ascetic journey cannot but be a greater opening to the needs of our neighbor. Whoever loves the Lord cannot close his eyes in the face of individuals and peoples tried by suffering and poverty. After having contemplated the face of the crucified Lord, how can we not recognize him and serve him in the sorrowful and abandoned? Jesus himself, who invites us to stay with him watching and praying, also asks us to love him in our brothers, reminding us that «as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me» (Matthew 25:40). Therefore, the fruit of an intensely lived Lent will be a greater and more universal love. May Mary, example of docile listening to the voice of the Spirit, guide us along the penitential way that we undertake today. May she help us to treasure every opportunity that the Church offers us to be able to prepare worthily for the celebration of the paschal Mystery.
[Translation by ZENIT]

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