Benedict XVI Homilies 13013
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The joy that flowed from the celebration of holy Christmas is fulfilled today in the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. A further reason for jubilation comes to us who are gathered here: indeed, in the sacrament of Baptism that I shall shortly administer to these newborn babies is expressed the living and active presence of the Holy Spirit who, enriching the Church with new children, vitalizes and develops her, and we cannot but rejoice in this. I would like to address a special greeting to you, dear parents and godparents who are witnessing to your faith today by asking for baptism for these children, so that they may be born to new life in Christ and become part of the community of believers.
The Gospel account of the baptism of Jesus which we heard in St Luke’s version shows the life of meekness and humility that the Son of God chose freely, complying with the Father’s plan to be obedient to his desire for love for man in all things, even to his sacrifice on the cross.
Having reached adulthood, Jesus began his public ministry by going to the River Jordan to receive from John a baptism of penance and conversion. What might seem paradoxical in our eyes actually happened. Did Jesus need penance and conversion? Of course not. Yet the One who is without sin put himself among sinners to have himself baptized, to make this act of penance. The Holy One of God joined those who recognized they were in need of forgiveness and asked God for the gift of conversion, that is, the grace to return to him with their whole heart, to belong totally to him. Jesus chose to join the ranks of sinners, to be in solidarity with them, expressing God’s closeness.
Jesus shows his solidarity with us, with our efforts to convert and to be rid of our selfishnesss, to break away from our sins in order to tell us that if we accept him in our life he can uplift us and lead us to the heights of God the Father. And Jesus’ solidarity is not, as it were, a mere exercise of mind and will. Jesus truly immersed himself in our human condition, lived it to the end, in all things save sin, and was able to understand our weakness and frailty. For this reason he was moved to compassion, he chose to “suffer with” men and women, to become a penitent with us. This is God’s work which Jesus wanted to carry out: the divine mission to heal those who are wounded and give medicine to the sick, to take upon himself the sin of the world.
What happened at the moment when Jesus had himself baptized by John? In the face of this act of humble love by the Son of God, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit showed himself in the form of a dove, while a voice from on high expressed the pleasure of the Father who acknowledged his Only- Begotten, his beloved Son. This was a real manifestation of the Blessed Trinity, that bears witness to the divinity of Jesus, of his being the promised Messiah, the One whom God sent to set his People free in order to save them (cf. Is 40,2).
In this way the prophecy of Isaiah that we heard in the first reading came true: the Lord God comes with might to destroy the work of sin and his arm rules in order to disarm the Evil One. However, let us bear in mind that this arm is the arm stretched out on the cross and that Christ’s power is the power of the One who suffered for us; this is the power of God, different from the power of the world; thus God comes with power to destroy sin.
Indeed Jesus acted as the Good Shepherd who tended his sheep and gathered his flock, so that none might stray (cf. Is 40,10-11), and layed down his life so that it might have life. It is through his redeeming death that man is liberated from the dominion of sin and reconciled with the Father; it is through his resurrection that man is saved from eternal death and enabled to triumph over the Evil One
Dear brothers and sisters, what happens in the baptism that I shall shortly be administering to your children? Exactly this: they will be deeply united with Jesus for ever, immersed in the mystery of his power, of his might, namely, in the mystery of his death which is a source of life so as to share in his resurrection, to be reborn to new life. This is the miracle that is repeated today, also for your children: in receiving baptism they are reborn as children of God who share in the filial relationship that Jesus has with the Father, in other words who can address God, calling him with full confidence and trust: “Abba, Father”. The heavens are also opened above your children and God says: these are my children, children in whom I am well pleased. Inserted into this relationship and liberated from original sin, they become living members of the one body that is the Church and are enabled to live their vocation to holiness in fullness, so as to be able to inherit eternal life, obtained for us by Jesus’ Resurrection.
Dear parents, in asking for Baptism for your children you express and witness to your faith, to the joy of being Christian and of belonging to the Church. It is the joy that comes from knowing you have received a great gift from God, faith itself, a gift which not one of us has been able to deserve but which was freely given to us and to which we responded with our “yes”. It is the joy of recognizing that we are children of God, of discovering that we have been entrusted to his hands, of feeling welcomed in a loving embrace in the same way that a mother holds and embraces her child. This joy, which guides every Christian’s journey, is based on a personal relationship with Jesus, a relationship that directs the whole of human existence.
Indeed it is he who is the meaning of our life, the One on whom it is worth keeping our eyes fixed so as to be illuminated by his Truth and to be able to live to the full. The journey of faith that begins for these infants today is therefore based on a certainty, on the experience that there is nothing greater than knowing Christ and communicating friendship with him to others; only in this friendship is the enormous potential of the human condition truly revealed and we can experience what is beautiful and sets us free (cf. Homily at Holy Mass for the Inauguration of the Pontificate, 24 April 2005). Whoever has had this experience is not prepared to give up his faith for anything in the world.
Dear godparents, it is your important duty to sustain and help the parents in their educational task, supporting them in the transmission of the truths of the faith and in their witness to the Gospel values and bringing up these children in an ever deeper friendship with the Lord. May you always be able to offer them your good example, through the practice of the Christian virtues. It is not easy to express what one believes in openly and without compromises. This is especially true in the context in which we live, in the face of a society that all too often considers those who live by faith in Jesus as out of fashion and out of time.
On the crest of this mentality, Christians too can risk seeing the relationship with Jesus as restrictive, something that humiliates one’s fulfilment; “God is constantly regarded as a limitation placed on our freedom, that must be set aside if man is ever to be completely himself” (The Infancy Narratives: Jesus of Nazareth)
But this is not how it is! This vision shows that it has not understood the relationship with God at all, for as we gradually proceed on our journey of faith, we realize that Jesus exercises on us the liberating action of God’s love which brings us out of our selfishness, our withdrawal into ourselves, to lead us to a full life in communion with God and open to others.
“‘God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him’ (1Jn 4,16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny” (Encyclical Deus Caritas Est ).
The water which will sign these children in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit will immerse them in that “fount” of life which is God himself and will make them his own true sons. And the seed of the theological virtues, faith, hope and charity, sown by God, seeds that are planted in their hearts today through the power of the Holy Spirit, must always be nourished by the word of God and by the sacraments so that these Christian virtues may grow and attain full maturity, until they make each one of them a true witness of the Lord.
As we invoke upon these little ones the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, let us entrust them to the protection of the Blessed Virgin; may she always preserve them with her motherly presence and accompany them at every moment of their lives. Amen.: CELEBRATION OF VESPERS
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is always a joy and a special grace to find ourselves gathered together around the tomb of the Apostle Paul for the conclusion the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. I greet with affection the Cardinals present, in the first place Cardinal Harvey, Archpriest of this Basilica, and with him the Abbot and the Community of monks that are hosting us. I greet Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and all the collaborators of that Dicastery. I address my cordial and brotherly greetings to His Eminence Metropolitan Gennadios, representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch; Reverend Canon Richardson, personal representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury in Rome; and all representatives of the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities gathered here this evening. Moreover, I am particularly pleased to greet the members of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, to whom I wish fruitful work at the Plenary Session that is taking place these days in Rome. I greet as well the students of the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey on their visit to Rome for the purpose of deepening their knowledge of the Catholic Church, and to Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox young people who are studying here. I greet lastly all present, gathered here to pray for unity among all disciples of Christ.
This celebration is set in the context of the Year of Faith, inaugurated last 11 October, on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Communion in the same faith is the basis for ecumenism. Unity, in fact, is given by God as inseparable from faith; St Paul says it efficaciously: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, on faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ep 4,4-6). The profession of baptismal faith in God, Father and Creator, that is revealed in his Son Jesus Christ, pouring forth the Spirit who gives life and who sanctifies, already unites Christians. Without faith — that is primarily a gift from God, but is also the response of man — the entire ecumenical movement would be reduced to a form of “contract” which adheres to a common interest. The Second Vatican Council reminds Christians that “the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love” (Unitatis redintegratio UR 7). The doctrinal questions that we still share must not be overlooked or minimalized. Rather, they should be faced with courage, in a spirit of brotherhood and mutual respect. Dialogue, when it reflects the priority of faith, permits us to open ourselves to the action of God with a firm trust that by ourselves we cannot create unity; it is the Holy Spirit who guides us toward full communion, and makes us accept the spiritual wealth present in the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities.
In today’s society it seems that the Christian message has less and less of an effect on personal and community life; and this is a challenge for all the Churches and Ecclesial Communities. Unity is in itself a privileged means, almost a presupposition to proclaiming in an ever more credible way the faith to those who do not yet know the Saviour, or who, despite having received the proclamation of the Gospel, have almost forgotten this precious gift. The scandal of division that undermined missionary activity was the impulse that started the ecumenical movement as we know it today. Full and visible communion among Christians is to be understood, in fact, as a fundamental characteristic for an ever clearer witness. As we journey towards full unity, it is thus necessary to pursue a practical collaboration among the disciples of Christ for the cause of transmitting the faith to the contemporary world. Today there is great need for reconciliation, dialogue and mutual understanding — not in a moralistic perspective but as authentic Christians for an ever stronger presence in the context of our time.
True faith in God, then, is inseparable from personal holiness, just as it is from the search for justice. In the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which ends today, the theme of our meditation was: “What does God require of us?”, inspired by the words of the Prophet Micah, which we have heard (cf. 6:6-8). It was proposed by the Student Christian Movement in India, in collaboration with the All India Catholic University Federation and the National Council of Churches in India, who also prepared aids for reflection and prayer. To those who collaborated in this I would like to express my deep gratitude and, with great affection, I assure you of my prayers for all Christians in India, who at times are called to witness to their faith in difficult conditions. “To walk humbly with God” (cf. Mic Mi 6,8) means above all to walk in radical faith, like Abraham, trusting in God, finding in him our every hope and aspiration. However, it also means crossing over barriers, over hatred, racism and the social and religious discrimination that divides and damages society as a whole. As St Paul affirms, Christians must first offer a luminous example in the quest for reconciliation and for communion in Christ, such that overcomes every kind of division. In his Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle to the Gentiles says: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3: 27-28).
Our search for unity in truth and in love, lastly, must never lose sight of the fact that unity among Christians is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit and goes far beyond our own efforts. Thus, spiritual ecumenism, especially prayer, is the heart of the ecumenical task (cf. Unitatis redintegratio UR 8). Yet, ecumenism will not bear lasting fruit unless it is accompanied by concrete actions of conversion that move our consciences and foster the healing of memory and of relationships. As the Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican Council II asserts, “there can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart” (n. 7). An authentic conversion, like that called for by the Prophet Micah and of which the Apostle Paul is a significant example, will bring us ever closer to God, to the centre of our life, in such a way as to bring us also closer to one another. This is a fundamental element of our ecumenical commitment. Renewal of the interior life of our heart and mind, which is reflected in daily life, is crucial to every dialogue and path of reconciliation, making ecumenism a commitment of mutual understanding, respect and love, “that the world may believe” (Jn 17,21).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us confidently invoke the Virgin Mary, incomparable model of evangelization, that the Church, “a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Lumen gentium LG 1), may proclaim with candour, in our time, Christ the Saviour. Amen.: FEBRUARY 2013
ON THE OCCASION OF THE 17th DAY OF CONSECRATED LIFE
St. Peter's Basilica
Saturday, 2 February 2013
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In his account of the infancy of Jesus St Luke emphasizes how faithful Mary and Joseph were to the Law of the Lord. They fulfilled with profound devotion all the prescriptions prescribed following the birth of a firstborn male. Two of them were very ancient prescriptions: one concerns the mother and the other the newborn child. The woman was required to abstain from ritual practices for forty days, after which she was to offer a double sacrifice: a lamb as a burnt offering and a turtle-dove as a sin offering; but if she were poor, she could offer a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons (cf. Lev Lv 12,1-8).
St Luke explained that Mary and Joseph offer the sacrifice of the poor (cf. 2:24) in order to emphasize that Jesus was born into a family of simple people, lowly but of steadfast faith: a family that belonged to the poor of Israel who form the true People of God. For the first-born male who, according to Mosaic Law, was set apart for God, redemption was prescribed instead, established as an offering of five shekels to be paid to a priest in any place. This was in everlasting memory of the fact that in the time of Herod God saved the firstborn of the Jews (cf. Ex Ex 13,11-16).
It is important to note that these two acts — the purification of the mother and the redemption of the son — did not require a visit to the Temple. However, Mary and Joseph wished to fulfil all the prescriptions in Jerusalem, and St Luke shows us how the entire scene converges on the Temple and thus focuses on Jesus who enters it. And it is here, precisely through the prescriptions of the Law, that the principal event is transformed, namely, it becomes the “presentation” of Jesus in the Temple of God, which means the act of offering the Son of the Most High to the Father who sent him (cf. Lk Lc 1,32).
The Evangelist’s account is confirmed by the words of the Prophet Malachi which we heard at the beginning of the First Reading: “Behold”, says the Lord, “I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming... he will purify the sons of Levi.... Then the offering... will be pleasing to the Lord” (3:1, 3, 4).
These words clearly make no mention of a child and yet they are fulfilled in Jesus because, thanks to the faith of his parents, he was taken to the Temple “immediately”; and in the act of his “presentation”, that is, the “offering” of him in person to God the Father, the themes of sacrifice and of the priesthood clearly transpire, as in the passage from the prophet. The Child Jesus, who is immediately presented in the Temple, is the same person who, as an adult, would purify the Temple (cf. Jn 2,13-22 Mc 11,15, 19ff). Above all he would make himself the sacrifice and the High Priest of the new Covenant.
This is also the perspective of the Letter to the Hebrews, a passage of which was proclaimed in the Second Reading, to strengthen the theme of the new priesthood: a priesthood — inaugurated by Jesus — which is existential: “For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (He 2,18). So it is that we also discover the topic of suffering, very pronounced in the Gospel passage in which Simeon imparts his prophecy concerning both the Child and the Mother: “Behold, this Child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and, [to Mary], a sword will pierce through your own soul also)” (Lc 2,34-35).
The “salvation” that Jesus brought to his people, and which he embodies in himself, passed through the Cross, through the violent death that he was to vanquish and to transform with the sacrifice of his life through love. This sacrifice was already foretold in the act of the Presentation in the Temple, an act without any doubt motivated by the traditions of the old Covenant, but that was deeply enlivened by the fullness of faith and love, which correspond to the fullness of time, to the presence of God and of his Holy Spirit in Jesus. Indeed, the Spirit moved over the whole scene of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and in particular over Simeon, but also over Anna.
The Spirit “Paraclete” brings consolation to Israel and motivates the steps and moves the hearts of those who await him. He is the Spirit who prompted the prophetic words of Simeon and Anna, words of blessing and praise of God, of faith in his Annointed One, of thanksgiving, for at last our eyes could see and our arms embrace “your salvation” (cf. 2:30).
“A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (2:32). With these words Simeon describes the Messiah of the Lord, at the end of his hymn of blessing. The topic of light, that reechoes the first and second songs of the Servant of the Lord in the Deutero-Isaiah (cf. Is 42,6 Is 49,6), is vividly present in this liturgy. It was in fact opened by an evocative procession, in which the Superiors and General Superiors of the Institutes of consecrated life represented here took part and carried lit candles. This sign, specific to the liturgical tradition of this Feast, is deeply expressive. It shows the beauty and value of the consecrated life as a reflection of Christ’s light; a sign that recalls Mary’s entry into the Temple. The Virgin Mary, the Consecrated Woman par excellence, carried in her arms the Light himself, the Incarnate Word who came to dispel the darkness of the world with God’s love.
Dear consecrated brothers and sisters, you were all represented in that symbolic pilgrimage, which in the Year of Faith expresses even better your gathering together in the Church to be strengthened in faith and to renew the offering of yourselves to God. I address my most cordial greetings with affection to each one of you and to your Institutes and I thank you for coming. In the light of Christ, with the many charisms of contemplative and apostolic life, you cooperate in the Church’s life and mission in the world.
In this spirit of gratitude and communion I would like to address three invitations to you, so that you may fully enter through that “door of faith” which is always open to us (Apostolic Letter, Porta Fidei, n. 1).
I invite you in the first place to nourish a faith that can illuminate your vocation. For this I urge you to treasure, as on an inner pilgrimage, the memory of the “first love” with which the Lord Jesus Christ warmed your hearts, not out of nostalgia but in order to feed that flame. And for this it is necessary to be with him, in the silence of adoration; and thereby reawaken the wish to share — and the joy of sharing — in his life, his decisions, the obedience of faith, the blessedness of the poor and the radical nature of love. Starting ever anew from this encounter of love, you leave everything to be with him and like him, to put yourselves at the service of God and your brothers and sisters (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata VC 1).
In the second place I invite you to have a faith that can recognize the wisdom of weakness. In the joys and afflictions of the present time, when the harshness and weight of the cross make themselves felt, do not doubt that the kenosis of Christ is already a paschal victory. Precisely in our limitations and weaknesses as human beings we are called to live conformation with Christ in an all-encompassing commitment which anticipates the eschatological perfection, to the extent that this is possible in time (ibid., n. 16). In a society of efficiency and success, your life, marked by the “humility” and frailty of the lowly, of empathy with those who have no voice, becomes an evangelical sign of contradiction.
Lastly, I invite you to renew the faith that makes you pilgrims bound for the future. By its nature the consecrated life is a pilgrimage of the spirit in quest of a Face that is sometimes revealed and sometimes veiled: “Faciem tuam, Domine, requiram” (Ps 27:8). May this be the constant yearning of your heart, the fundamental criterion that guides you on your journey, both in small daily steps and in the most important decisions.
Do not join the ranks of the prophets of doom who proclaim the end or meaninglessness of the consecrated life in the Church in our day; rather, clothe yourselves in Jesus Christ and put on the armour of light — as St Paul urged (cf. Rom Rm 13,11-14) — keeping awake and watchful. St Chromatius of Aquileia wrote: “Distance this peril from us so that we are never overcome by the heavy slumber of infidelity. Rather may he grant us his grace and his mercy, that we may watch, ever faithful to him. In fact our fidelity can watch in Christ (Sermon 32, 4).
Dear brothers and sisters, the joy of consecrated life necessarily passes through participation in the cross of Christ. This is how it ways for Mary Most Holy. Hers is the suffering of the heart that is one with the Heart of the Son of God, pierced by love. From this wound God’s light flows and also from the suffering, sacrifice and self-giving of consecrated people who live through their love for God and for others, that shines the very light that evangelizes nations. On this feast I express in a special way to you, consecrated people, the hope that your lives may always have the flavour of evangelical parresia, so that in you the Good News may be lived, witnessed to, and proclaimed and may shine out as a word of truth (cf. Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, n. 6). Amen.: HOLY MASS, BLESSING AND IMPOSITION OF THE ASHES
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin a new Lenten journey, a journey that lasts forty days and leads us towards the joy of Easter, the victory of life over death. Following the ancient Roman tradition of the Lenten stations, we are gathered today for the celebration of the Eucharist. Traditionally the first station is held in the Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill. Circumstances have suggested that we gather in the Vatican Basilica. This evening we meet in great numbers around the tomb of the Apostle Peter, also to beg his intercession for the Church’s path forward at this particular moment, renewing our faith in the Chief Pastor, Christ the Lord. For me it is a fitting occasion to thank everyone, especially the faithful of the Diocese of Rome, as I prepare to conclude my Petrine ministry, and to ask for a special remembrance in your prayers.
The readings just proclaimed offer us several points of reflection which during this Lent, with God’s grace, we are called to translate into concrete ways of thinking and acting. First, the Church repeats to us the powerful appeal which the prophet Joel addressed to the people of Israel: "Even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning" (Jl 2,12). The expression "with all your heart" is important: it means from the core of our thoughts and feelings, from the wellspring of our free decisions, choices and actions, in an act of complete and radical freedom. But is such a return to God possible? Yes, because there is a power which does not reside in our own hearts, but springs from God’s own heart. It is the power of his mercy. The prophet goes on to say: "Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing" (Jl 2,13). To return to the Lord is possible as a "grace", for it is God’s own work and the fruit of our faith in his mercy. This return to God becomes a concrete reality in our lives only when the Lord’s grace penetrates and deeply shakes us, enabling us to "rend our hearts". Again, the prophet has God proclaim these words: "Rend your hearts and not your clothing" (v. 13). In our own day, lots of people are ready to "rend their clothing" in the face of scandals and acts of injustice – the fault naturally of others – but few seem prepared to do something about their own "hearts", their own consciences and their own intentions, allowing the Lord to transform, renew and convert them.
The words, "Return to me with all your heart", are an appeal directed not only to individuals, but to the whole community. Again, in the first reading we heard the words: "Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy" (Jl 2,15-16). The dimension of community is an essential part of Christian faith and life. Christ came "to gather into one the dispersed children of God" (cf. Jn 11,52). The "we" of the Church is a community in which Jesus draws us together to himself (cf. Jn 12,32): faith is necessarily ecclesial. It is important to keep this in mind and to experience it throughout this Lenten season: everyone should realize that we do not take up the path of repentance alone, but together with our many brothers and sisters in the Church.
Finally, the prophet considers the prayer of the priests, who turn to God with tears, saying: "Do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’" (Jl 2,17). This prayer makes us think of the importance of the witness of Christian faith and life given by each of us and our communities for showing the face of the Church, and how that face is sometimes disfigured. I think in particular of sins against the unity of the Church, and divisions within the body of the Church. To experience Lent in a more intense and manifest ecclesial communion, overcoming individualism and rivalry, is a humble and valuable sign for those who are distant from the faith or indifferent.
"See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!" (2Co 6,2). These words of the Apostle Paul to the Christians of Corinth also echo in our hearts with an urgency which leaves no room for absence or inertia. The frequent repetition of the word "now" tells us that we cannot let this moment pass: it is given to us as a unique and unrepeatable opportunity. The Apostle fixes his gaze on on the "sharing" which Christ wanted to characterize his life, by taking upon himself all that is human, even our sin. Saint Paul’s words are forceful: God "made him to be sin" for our sake. Jesus, the innocent one, the holy one, "he who knew no sin" (2Co 5,21), took upon himself the burden of sin by sharing with humanity its wages of death, even death on a cross. The reconciliation offered us had a high price, that of the cross raised on Golgotha on which the Son of God made man hung. In this, God’s immersion in human suffering and the abyss of evil, is the root of our justification. To "return to God with all your heart" on this Lenten journey means embracing the cross, following Christ along the path which leads to Calvary, unto complete self-giving. It is a journey which teaches us each day to abandon our selfishness and self-absorption in order to make room for God, who opens and transforms our hearts. Saint Paul reminds us that the preaching of the cross resonates within us as a result of the preaching of the word, of which the Apostle himself is an ambassador; it is an appeal to make this Lenten journey a time when we listen more attentively and regularly to the word of God, the light for our path.
In the page of Matthew’s Gospel, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus mentions three basic practices found in the law of Moses: almsgiving, prayer and fasting; these are also traditional signposts along the journey of Lent, pointing out how to respond to the call to "return to God with all your heart". But Jesus makes it clear that is the quality and the truthfulness of our relationship with God which reveals the authenticity of any religious practice. Consequently, he denounces religious hypocrisy, ways of acting meant to impress others and to garner applause and approval. The true disciple serves not himself or the "public", but his Lord, simply and generously: "and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Mt 6:4,6,18). Our witness, then, will always be more effective the less we seek our own glory and the more we realize that the reward of the just is God himself: being one with him here below on the journey of faith, and, at life’s end, in the luminous peace of seeing him face to face for ever (cf. 1Co 13,12).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us begin our Lenten journey with joyful confidence. May we feel deep within us the call to conversion, to "return to God with all our heart", accepting his grace which makes us new men and women, with that astonishing newness which is a share in the very life of Jesus. May none of us be deaf to this appeal, which also comes to us in the austere rite, at once so simple and so evocative, of the imposition of ashes, which we are about to celebrate. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church and the model of all authentic disciples of the Lord, accompany us throughout this Lenten season. Amen!
Benedict XVI Homilies 13013