Rome (AsiaNews) - Prayer, "the engine of the world" and the first weapon for winning the battle against evil, together with penance and fasting, characterise the period of Lent, which is "a providential occasion for making our hope more vibrant and firm". This is also accomplished through suffering, which opens the way to participating in the consolation of God.
Centred around hope, the object of his second encyclical, Benedict XVI observed the "Lenten station" of Ash Wednesday this afternoon with a celebration in the ancient Roman basilica of Santa Sabina. It was a long celebration that began not far away in the evocative Church of Saint Anselm on the Aventine hill, on a dazzling afternoon. From here, after a moment of prayer, the penitential procession got underway, with the participation of cardinals, bishops, priests, and faithful, in addition to the Benedictine monks of Saint Anselm and the Dominicans of Santa Sabina. During the celebration in the latter church, the pope received the ashes from Cardinal Joseph Tomko, the head of the basilica.
Prayer, in the words of the pope, "nourishes hope, because nothing expresses the reality of God in our lives better than prayer with faith. Even in the solitude of the harshest trials, nothing and no one can prevent me from turning to the Father 'in the secret' of my heart, where He alone 'sees', as Jesus says in the Gospel (cf. Mt. 6:4,6,18)".
"Prayer," Benedict XVI continued, "is a crucible in which our expectations and aspirations are exposed to the light of the Word of God, are immersed in dialogue with the One who is truth, and are freed from hidden deceptions and compromises with various forms of egoism (cf. Spe Salvi, 33). Without the dimension of prayer, the human ego would end up closing in upon itself, and the conscience, which should be the echo of the voice of God, is in danger of being reduced to the reflection of the ego, such that the interior dialogue would become a monologue, giving rise to thousands of self-justifications. Prayer is thus a guarantee of openness to others, and frees one for God and his demands, opening one at the same time to others, to the brother who knocks at the door of one's heart and asks for listening, attention, forgiveness, sometimes for correction, but always in fraternal charity. True prayer is never egocentric, but is always centred upon the other. As such, it trains the one who prays in the "ecstasy" of charity, in the capacity to come out from oneself in order to become neighbour to the other in humble and disinterested service. True prayer is the engine of the world, because it keeps it open to God. For this reason, without prayer there is no hope, only illusion. It is not, in fact, the presence of God that alienates man, but his absence: without the true God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, hopes become illusions that induce one to hide from reality. To speak with God, to remain in his presence allows us to be enlightened and purified by his Word, it introduces us into the heart of reality, into the deep engine of cosmic transformation; it introduces us, so to speak, into the pulsing heart of the universe".
"In harmonic connection with prayer", the pope continued, "fasting and almsgiving can also be considered places where Christian hope is learned and exercised". "Thanks to the joint action of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, Lent in its entirety forms Christians to become men and women of hope, following the example of the saints".
The last topic that Benedict XVI addressed was that of suffering, "because, as I wrote in the encyclical Spe Salvi, 'The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer' (Spe Salvi, 38). Easter, toward which Lent is ordered, is the mystery that gives meaning to human suffering, beginning from the overabundance of God's com-passion, realised in Jesus Christ. The journey of Lent, therefore, being completely suffused with the light of Easter, makes us to relive what happened in the divine-human heart of Jesus while he went up to Jerusalem for the last time, to offer himself an expiation (cf. Isaiah 53:10). Suffering and death fell like the darkness as He gradually drew near to the cross, but the light of love was also aflame. The suffering of Christ is, in effect, entirely permeated by the light of love (cf. Spe Salvi, 38): the love of the Father who permits his Son to proceed with trust toward his last 'baptism', as He himself defines the culmination of his mission (cf. Luke 12:50). Jesus received that baptism of suffering and love for us, for all of humanity. He suffered for truth and justice, bringing into human history the Gospel of suffering, which is the other side of the Gospel of love. God cannot suffer, but he can and wants to suffer-with. From the passion of Christ, all human suffering can receive con-solatio, 'the consolation of God's compassionate love - and so the star of hope rises' (Spe Salvi, 39)".