ROME, FEB. 26, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI is encouraging Catholics to live this Lent practicing prayer, almsgiving and fasting following the example of St. Paul.
The Pope affirmed this today in Mass before receiving and distributing ashes at the Basilica of St. Sabina. He began the Ash Wednesday events by presiding over a prayer assembly. A penitential procession of cardinals, bishops and laypeople traveled from St. Anselm to St. Sabina for the Eucharistic Celebration.
In the homily, the Pontiff spoke about the liturgy, which shows us “what the orientation of our spirit should be, and offers us the singular spiritual journey we are undertaking.”
He continued: “The call to conversion emerges as the dominant theme in all the components of today’s liturgy. The entrance antiphon states that the Lord forgets and forgives the sins of those who convert.”
“God’s promise is clear,” Benedict XVI affirmed, “if the people listen to the invitation to be converted, God will make his mercy triumph and his friends will be filled with innumerable favors.”
In the Gospel, he said, “Jesus puts us on guard against the pangs of vanity, which lead to ostentation and hypocrisy, to superficiality and self-complacency, and stresses the need to nurture rectitude of heart.” He added, “At the same time he shows us the means to grow in this purity of intention, by cultivating intimacy with the heavenly Father.”
Referring to this year dedicated to the Apostle to the Gentiles, the Pope pointed out: “Paul experienced in an extraordinary way the power of the grace of God, the grace of the Paschal mystery which Lent itself lives.
“He presents himself to us as ‘ambassador’ of the Lord. Who then better than he can help us to advance in a fruitful way on this path of interior conversion?”
He added, “The whole of his preaching, and even before, the whole of his missionary life, was sustained by an interior force that led back to the fundamental experience of grace.”
The Pontiff explained, “It is a consciousness that emerges in all his writings that functioned as an interior ‘leaven’ on which God was able to act to push him forward, toward ever farther frontiers, not only geographical but also spiritual.
“St. Paul acknowledges that everything in him is the work of divine grace, but he does not forget that one must freely add the gift of new life received in baptism.”
St. Paul shows us, he said, how to live Lent: “The disciple must make the victory of Christ his own, and this occurs first of all with baptism, through which, united to Christ, we have become living beings, returned from the dead.
“However, if Christ is to reign fully in a baptized person, [that person] must follow the teachings faithfully: He must never lower his guard, so as not to permit the adversary to gain ground in some way.”
The Holy Father underlined prayer, almsgiving and fasting as the means to fulfill our baptismal vocation faced to the ongoing struggle between good and evil.
He emphasized Paul’s example of prayer of perseverance and thanksgiving, almsgiving that puts priority on loving others, and fasting in watchful expectation of the Lord.
Benedict XVI underlined the Apostle’s devotion to the Word of God. He said that Paul “lived from the Word of God: thought, action, prayer, theology, preaching, exhortation, all in him was fruit of the Word, received since his youth in the Jewish faith, fully revealed to his eyes in his encounter with Christ dead and risen, preached for the rest of his life during his missionary run.”
The Pope said to his listeners: “While we dispose ourselves to receive the ashes on our head in sign of conversion and penance, let us open our hearts to the vivifying action of the Word of God.
“May Lent, marked by more frequent listening to this Word, more intense prayer and an austere and penitential style of life, be a stimulus to conversion and to sincere love for brothers, especially those who are the poorest and neediest.
“May the Apostle Paul accompany us, may Mary, attentive Virgin of listening and humble handmaid of the Lord, guide us. Thus, renewed in the spirit, we will be able to celebrate Easter with joy.”