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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

General Audience on Lent, a journey of hope

At 9:30am today, Ash Wednesday, the General Audience took place in Saint Peter's Square, where the Holy Father, Pope Francis met with groups of pilgrims and the faithful from Italy and from other parts of the world.

In his speech, the Pope continued the cycle of catecheses on Christian hope, adding his meditation on the theme: Lent, a journey of hope (Exodus 3:7-8, 10).

After having summarized his catechesis in various languages, the Holy Father offered greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.

The General Audience concluded with the chanting of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic blessing.

Catechesis of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the General Audience

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

On this day, Ash Wednesday, we enter into the liturgical season of Lent.  Since we are in the midst of a cycle of catechesis on the theme of Christian hope, today, I want to present Lent as a journey of hope.

In fact, this perspective is particularly evident if we think that Lent was begun in the Church as a time of preparation for Easter, and therefore the sense of this period of forty days is enlightened by the Paschal mystery toward which we are headed.  We can imagine that the Risen Lord is calling us to come out of our shadows, and we are setting out on a journey toward him who is our Light.  And Lent is a journey toward the Risen Jesus, a penitential period, a period of mortification, but it is not an end in itself, but rather it aims to help us rise again with Christ, to renew our baptismal identity, to be reborn again from on high through the love of God (cf Jn 3:3).  This is why Lent by its nature, is a hopeful time.

In order to better understand what this means, we should consider the fundamental experience of the Israelis who were exiled into Egypt, as it is recounted in the Bible, in the book that bears this name: Exodus.  The beginning point is the condition of slavery in Egypt, oppression, forced labour.  But the Lord did not forget his people, nor his promise: he called Moses and, with a strong arm, he brought the Israelites out of Egypt and led them through the desert toward the Promised Land.  During this journey from slavery to freedom, the Lord gave the Israelites the law, to teach them to love him, the only Lord, and to love other people as brothers.  The Scriptures show that the exodus was long and arduous: it symbolically lasted for 40 years, the lifetime of one generation.  One generation which, faced with the trials of the journey, was often tempted to return to Egypt and to go backwards.  We too experience the temptation to turn back, all of us.  But the Lord remains faithful and this poor people, led by Moses, arrives in the Promised Land.  The entire journey is accomplished in hope: the hope of reaching the Land, and in this sense, this is an exile, a going out from slavery toward freedom.  These 40 days are also for all of us a going out from slavery to sin, toward freedom, toward an encounter with the Risen Christ.  Every step, every effort, every test, every fall and every new beginning, everything makes sense only as part of God's plan for salvation; God desires life for his people, not death, he desires joy, not suffering.

Jesus' Passover (resurrection) is his exodus, with which He opened for us the way to the fullness of life, eternal and blessed.  In order to open this path, this passage, Jesus had to divest himself of his glory, humble himself, act in obedience even to the point of death, death on a cross.  Opening the way for us to eternal life cost him every drop of his blood, and thank to Him, we have been saved from slavery to sin.  But this does not mean that He has done everything and that we have done nothing, that He has passed through the cross and we will go to heaven in a carriage.  It doesn't work that way.  Our salvation is certainly a gift from God, but because it is a story of love, it requires our yes and our participation in his love, as our Mother Mary and all the saints demonstrate for us.

Lent is meant to be lived in this way: Christ precedes us with his own exodus, and we cross the desert thanks to Him and following Him.  He was tempted for us, and triumphed over the Tempter for us, but we too must face temptations and overcome them, with his help.  He gives us the living water of his Spirit; it is up to us to draw upon this fountain, to drink from the Sacraments, from prayer, from adoration; HE is the light that triumphs over shadows, and we are asked to fuel 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 for the first Sunday of Lent); those who walk the road of Lent are always on a path of conversion.  Lent is a sacramental sign of our journey from slavery to freedom, constantly being renewed.  A journey which is certainly challenging, as it should be, love too is challenging, but it is a journey that is filled with hope.  I would even say further: our Lenten exodus is the way in which hope itself takes shape.  The effort required to cross the desert - all the tests, the temptations, the illusions, the mirages ... - all of this helps us to develop the strength of our hope, steadfastly founded on the model of faith we have been given by the Virgin Mary, who in the midst of the darkness of the passion and death of her Son continued to hope in the promise of his resurrection, the victory of God's love.

With our hearts open to this horizon, let us enter today into the season of Lent: part of the holy people of God, we joyfully begin this journey of hope.

The Holy Father's catechesis was then summarized in various languages and he offered particular greetings to each group of the faithful in attendance.  To English-speaking pilgrims, he said:

I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, particularly the groups from Korea and the United States of America. May the Lenten journey we begin today bring us to Easter with hearts purified and renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Upon you and your families I invoke an abundance of joy and peace in Christ our Redeemer. God bless you all!
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