Address at Ash Wednesday General Audience

Every Human Being Is Reminded of His Sinfulness, Pope Says

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 13, 2002 (Zenit.org).- John Paul II dedicated today´s general audience to reflect on the meaning of Lent. Here is a translation of the address given in Italian.

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1. The general audience today, Ash Wednesday, is characterized by a special spirit of prayer, reflection and penance. Together with the whole Church, we begin a 40-day journey in preparation for Easter with the austere sign of the imposition of ashes, coupled with Christ´s exhortation: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (see Mark 1:15). Thus every human being is reminded of his condition of sinner, and his need for penance and conversion.

Christian faith reminds us that this urgent call to reject evil and do good is a gift of God, from whom comes everything that is good for man´s life. Everything has its origin in the gratuitous initiative of God, who has created us for happiness and directs everything toward the true good. With his grace, he anticipates our own desire for conversion and supports our efforts toward full adherence to his salvific will.

2. In this year´s Lenten Message, published a few days ago, I wished to indicate to the whole Catholic world the theme of the gratuitousness of God´s initiative in our life, the essential element that spans the whole of biblical revelation. Lent is a “providential occasion for conversion,” precisely because “it helps us to contemplate this wondrous mystery of love,” in the light of which Jesus admonishes: “You received without pay, give without pay” (Matthew 10:8). The Lenten journey is thus revealed in its most profound reality, as “a return to the roots of the faith, because, meditating on the incommensurable gift of grace that is the Redemption, we cannot but realize that everything is given by loving divine initiative” (Message for Lent …).

With incisive and timely words, the Apostle Paul expresses the gratuitousness of the grace of God, who has reconciled us with himself out of love. Indeed, he reminds us that “only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). That God who in his immense love has created us, and who likewise out of love has destined us to full communion with himself, seeks the same generous, free and conscious response from us.

3. The journey of conversion, which we confidently undertake today, enters fully in this original context of love and gratuitousness. Are not almsgiving and charitable acts, which we are invited to carry out in this penitential time, a response to the gratuitousness of divine grace? If we received without pay, we must give without pay (see Matthew 10:8).

Today´s society has a profound need to rediscover the value of gratuitousness, especially because in our world a logic seems to prevail that is characterized exclusively by the quest for profit and earnings at all costs. Given the widespread feeling that every choice and act must be dominated by the logic of the market´s buying and selling and that the law of the greatest possible profit must prevail, Christian faith proposes again the ideal of gratuitousness, based on the conscious freedom of individuals, inspired by authentic love.

Let us entrust these forty days of intense prayer and penance to the Virgin Mary, the “Mother of Fair Love.” May she accompany us and lead us to celebrate worthily the great mystery of Christ´s passover, supreme revelation of the gratuitous and merciful love of the heavenly Father. Good Lent to all!

[Translation by ZENIT]

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[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father read the following summary in English.]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Ash Wednesday, we begin our preparation for Easter. We listen to the words of Jesus: “Repent and believe the Gospel!” We remember that we are sinners in need of conversion. But our own efforts are not enough. We depend upon God´s grace. Through Lent we “contemplate this wondrous mystery of love … the infinite grace of the Redemption.” The God who created us in love and destined us in love to share his life seeks from us a free and generous response. This is the meaning of our almsgiving and our acts of charity during Lent. They are our gift in response to God´s gift. Such a gift is needed more than ever in a world often obsessed by profit. May the Virgin Mary lead us through Lent to the glorious passover of her Son.

I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially those from England and the United States of America. May these days of Lent be a time of renewal and blessing for you all!

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