The General Audience was held at 9:30 this morning, Ash Wednesday, in St. Peter’s Square, where the Holy Father Francis met with groups of pilgrims and faithful from Italy and from all over the world.
Continuing with the series of catecheses on Christian hope, in his address in Italian the Pope focused his meditation on the theme: “Lent, Journey of Hope” (Exodus 3:7-8.10).
After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present.
The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.
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The Holy Father’s Catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
On this day, Ash Wednesday, we enter the liturgical Season of Lent. And as we are carrying out a series of catecheses on Christian hope, I would like to present Lent to you today as a journey of hope.
In fact, this perspective is immediately evident if we think that the Church instituted Lent as a time of preparation for Easter and, therefore, the whole meaning of these forty days draws light from the paschal mystery, to which it is oriented. We can imagine the Risen Lord, who calls us to come out of our darkness, and we set out on the way to Him, who is the Light. And Lent is a journey towards the Risen Jesus, it is a period of penance, also of mortification, but not as an end in itself, rather geared to make us rise again with Christ, to renew our baptismal identity, namely, to be reborn again “from on high,” from the love of God (cf. John 3:3). See why Lent is, by its nature, a time of hope.
To understand better what this means, we must refer to the fundamental experience of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, narrated by the Bible in the Book that bears this name: Exodus. The point of departure is the condition of slavery in Egypt, oppression, forced labor. However, the Lord has not forgotten His people and His promise: He calls Moses and, with a powerful arm, has the Israelites leave Egypt and guides them through the desert to the land of freedom. During this journey from slavery to freedom, the Lord gives the Israelites the Law, to educate them to love Him, only Lord, and to love one another as brothers. Scripture shows that the exodus was long and troubled: it lasted symbolically 40 years, namely, the lifetime of a generation. A generation that, in face of the trials of the journey, was always tempted to regret Egypt and to turn back. We also know the temptation to turn back, all of us. But the Lord remains faithful and those poor people, led by Moses, arrived at the Promised Land. The whole of this journey was undertaken in hope: the hope of reaching the Land, and in this sense it is precisely an “exodus,” a going out of slavery to freedom. And these 40 days are, for all of us also, a going out from slavery, from sin, to freedom, to the encounter with the Risen Christ. Every step, every effort, every trial, every fall and every recovery, all make sense only within the plan of salvation of God, who wants life for His people and not death, joy and not sorrow.
Jesus’ Easter is His exodus, with which He has opened the way for us to attain full, eternal and blessed life. To open this way, this passage, Jesus had to strip Himself of His glory, humble Himself, be obedient to death and to death on the cross. To open the way for us to eternal life cost Him all His blood, and, thanks to Him, we are saved from the slavery of sin. But this does not mean that He did all and we have nothing to do, that He went through the cross and we “go to Paradise in a carriage.” It’s not so. Our salvation is certainly His gift, but, because it is a story of love, it requires our “yes” and our participation in His love, as our Mother Mary shows us and, after her, all the Saints.
Lent lives of this dynamic: Christ precedes us with His exodus, and we go through the desert thanks to Him and behind Him. He was tempted for us, and He defeated the Tempter for us, but with Him, we must also face temptations and overcome them. He gives us the living water of His Spirit, and it is for us to draw from His source and drink, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in adoration. He is the light that overcomes the darkness, and we are asked to kindle the little flame that was entrusted to us on the day of our Baptism.
In this sense, Lent is a “sacramental sign of our conversion” (Roman Missal, Collect, First Sunday of Lent); one who undertakes the way of Lent is always on the way of conversion. Lent is the sacramental sign of our journey from slavery to freedom, ever to be renewed — a journey that is certainly demanding, as it is right that it should be, because love is demanding, but <it is> a journey full of hope. Rather, I will say more: the Lenten exodus is the journey in which hope itself is formed. The exhaustion of crossing the desert – all the trials, the temptations, the illusions, the mirages . . .–, all this is useful to forge a strong, solid hope on the model of that of the Virgin Mary, who in the midst of the darkness of the Passion and Death of her Son continued to believe and to hope in His Resurrection, in the victory of God’s love.
Let us enter Lent today with a heart open to this horizon. Feeling ourselves part of the people of God, we begin with joy this journey of hope.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
A warm greeting goes to the Italian-speaking faithful. I am happy to receive the parish groups and the Associations, in particular the Friends of the Heart of Altamura, thanking them for the gift of the defibrillator. I greet the students of Civitavecchia, Legnano, Cislago, Thiene and Celafu, as well as the Livia Bottardi Technical Institute for Tourism of Rome and the Dutch Christian school of Meppel. I hope that for each one this meeting at the beginning of Lent arouses a spiritual renewal, with participation in the Lenten celebrations and in the solidarity campaigns that many ecclesial organizations, in different parts of the world, promote to witness their closeness to needy brothers.
A special thought goes to young people, the sick and newlyweds. Dear brothers, today, Ash Wednesday, the Lord indicates the path of hope to follow. May the Holy Spirit lead you to fulfill a true journey of conversion, to rediscover the gift of the Word of God, to be purified from sin and to serve Christ present in brothers.[Original text: Italian] [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]