Pope Benedict XVI- Homilies
Us Begin This Lenten Itinerary Confident and Joyful"
Ash Wednesday Homily
H.H. Benedict XVI
March 9, 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We begin today the liturgical season of Lent with the
thought-provoking rite of the imposition of ashes, through which we
wish to take on the commitment to convert our hearts to the horizons
of grace. In general, in common opinion, this time runs the risk of
being marked by sadness, by the darkness of life. Instead, it is a
precious gift of God; it is an intense time full of meanings in the
journey of the Church; it is the itinerary to the Lord's Easter. The
biblical readings of today's celebration give us indications to live
this spiritual experience fully.
"Return to me with all your heart" (Joel 2:12). In the first reading
taken from the Book of the prophet Joel, we have heard these words
with which God invited the Jewish people to sincere, not apparent,
repentance. It is not about a superficial and transitory conversion
but, rather, a spiritual itinerary which has much to do with the
attitudes of the conscience and which implies a sincere resolution
to repent. The prophet begins with the plague of the invasion of
locusts, which fell on the people destroying their crops, to invite
them to interior penance, to rend their hearts and not their
garments (cf. 2:13).
Hence, it is about putting into practice an attitude of genuine
conversion to God -- of return to him -- recognizing his holiness,
his power, his majesty. And this conversion is possible because God
is rich in mercy and great in love. His is a regenerating mercy,
which creates a pure heart in us, renews our interior in a firm
spirit, restoring to us the joy of salvation (cf.Psalm 50:14). God,
in fact, does not will the death of the sinner, but that he be
converted and live (cf. Ezekiel 33:11). So the prophet Joel orders,
in the name of the Lord, that an appropriate penitential environment
be created: It is necessary to blow the trumpet, convoke the
meeting, awaken consciences.
The Lenten period proposes to us this liturgical and penitential
ambit: a journey of forty days where we can experience in an
effective way the merciful love of God. Today the call resounds for
us: "Return to me with all your heart"; today we are the ones called
to convert our hearts to God, conscious that we cannot carry out our
conversion by ourselves, with our own efforts, because it is God who
converts us. He offers us once again his forgiveness, inviting us to
return to Him to give us a new heart, purified from the evil that
oppresses it, to have us take part in his joy. Our world needs to be
converted to God; it needs his forgiveness, his love; it needs a new
"Be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). In the second reading,
Saint Paul offers us another element on the path to conversion. The
Apostle invites to look away from him and to direct our attention
instead to the One who has sent him and to the content of the
message he brings: "[s]o we are ambassadors for Christ, God making
his appeal through us. We beseech you, on behalf of Christ, be
reconciled to God" (Ibid.). An ambassador repeats what he has heard
his Lord say and he speaks with the authority and within the limits
he has received. He who carries out the office of ambassador must
not attract attention to himself, but must place himself at the
service of the message he must transmit and of the one who sent him.
Saint Paul acts thus when carrying out his ministry of preaching the
Word of God and of Apostle of Jesus Christ. He does not shrink in
face of the task received, but carries it out with total dedication,
inviting us to open ourselves to grace, to allow God to convert us.
"Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the
grace of God in vain" (2 Corinthians 6:1).
"Now then, Christ's call to conversion," the Catechism of the
Catholic Church tells us, "continues to resound in the lives of
Christians. [...] is an uninterrupted task for the whole Church who
'clasping sinners to her bosom, [is]at once holy and always in need
of purification, [and] follows constantly the path of penance and
renewal' (LG 8). This endeavor of conversion is not just a human
work. It is the movement of a 'contrite heart' (Psalm 51:19), drawn
and moved by grace (cf. John 6:44; 12:32) to respond to the merciful
love of God who loved us first (cf. 1 John 4:10)" (No. 1428).
St. Paul speaks to the Christians of Corinth, but through them he
intends to address all men. All in fact are in need of the grace of
God, to illumine their minds and hearts. And the Apostle adds: "now
is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation" (2
Corinthians6:2). We can all open ourselves to God's action, to his
love; with our evangelical witness, we Christians must be a living
message, in fact, in many cases we are the only Gospel that the men
of today still read. This is our responsibility, following the steps
of Saint Paul, here is another reason to live Lent well: to give
witness of a lived faith to a world in difficulty that needs to
return to God, which is in need of conversion.
"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by
them" (Matthew 6:1). In today's Gospel, Jesus repeats the three
essential works of piety established in the Mosaic Law. Almsgiving,
prayer and fasting characterized the Jews who observed the law. With
the passing of time, these prescriptions were stained by the rust of
exterior formalism, or they have even been transformed into a sign
In these three works of piety Jesus makes evident a common
temptation. When something good is done, almost instinctively the
desire arises to be esteemed and admired for the good action, to
have some satisfaction. And this, on one hand, shuts us in on
ourselves, and on the other it takes us out of ourselves, because we
live projected to what others think of us and admire in us. In
proposing these prescriptions again, the Lord Jesus does not ask for
formal respect to a law foreign to man, imposed by a severe lawmaker
as a heavy burden, but he invites us to rediscover these three works
of piety by living them more profoundly, not for love of self but
for love of God, as means on the path of conversion to Him.
Almsgiving, prayer and fasting is the course of the divine pedagogy
that supports us, not only in Lent, toward the encounter with the
Risen Lord; a path to follow without ostentation, in the certainty
that the heavenly Father is able to read and also to see in the
secrecy of our hearts.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us begin this Lenten itinerary
confident and joyful. Forty days separate us from Easter; this
"intense" time of the liturgical year is a propitious time to
attend, with greater commitment, to our conversion, to intensify
listening to the Word of God, prayer and penance, opening our hearts
to the docile acceptance of the divine will, for a more generous
practice of mortification, thanks to which we will go more readily
to help our needy neighbor: a spiritual itinerary which prepares us
to receive the Paschal Mystery.
May Mary, our guide on our Lenten path, lead us to an ever more
profound knowledge of Christ, dead and resurrected, may she help us
in the spiritual battle against sin, may she sustain us on invoking
forcefully: Convert us, "Deus salutaris noster" -- Convert us to
You, O God, our salvation." Amen!
[Translation by ZENIT]
Return to the homilies page...
Return to the Lent 2011 page...
at the One they Pierced!
This page is the work of the Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and