03/09/2011, 00.00
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Lent, a testing time for genuine conversion, a joyous journey towards Easter, says Pope

Benedict XVI celebrated Ash Wednesday today, calling on the faithful to fast, pray and give alms, not for a “desire to be respected and admired for the good deed,” but in order to “rediscover these three works of piety, living them in a deeper way, not for our own love, but for the love of God.”

Rome (AsiaNews) – Lent, which began today Ash Wednesday, “in the common opinion is likely to be characterized by sadness, the greyness of life. Instead it is a precious gift of God, it is a time of strength and full of significance in the journey of the Church, it is the road to the Lord's Passover,” the Pope Benedict XVI said. At the Church of Santa Sabina, traditional starting point for papal celebrations of the day, the Pontiff urged the faithful to accept the testing days of Lent and the joyous journey towards Easter as a “genuine” moment of conversion to God.

After coming to the ancient Roman basilica in a penitential procession from the nearby Church of San Anselmo on the Aventine, the Pope in his homily offered an indication on how to live Lent fully.  It is “to implement an attitude of genuine conversion to God—to return to Him—by recognizing His holiness, His power, His majesty. And this conversion is possible because God is rich in mercy and love. His mercy is all-renewing, which creates in us a clean heart, bringing new life to our spirit, giving us the joy of Salvation (cf Ps, 50:14). God does not want the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live (cf Ez, 33:11).”

“The Lenten season offers us that liturgical and penitential environment: a journey of forty days in which to experience the merciful love of God. Today we hear again the call ‘Come back to me with your whole heart’, and today we are being called to convert our hearts to God, always conscious of not being able to complete our conversion ourselves, by our own power, because it is God who converts.”

“He still offers us His forgiveness, inviting us to return to Him, giving us a new heart, purified from the evil that oppresses it, for us to share in His joy. Our world needs to be converted by God, it needs His forgiveness, His love, it needs a new heart.”

“Be reconciled to God,” the Pope said citing the Letter to Corinthians, because “All are open to the action of God, his love. With our Christian witness, we Christians must be a living message; indeed, in many cases we are the only Gospel that people today still read.”

Here is our responsibility in the footsteps of St Paul, here's one more reason to live this Lent well: to offer a living witness of faith in a troubled world that needs to return to God, a world which needs conversion.”

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; " (Mt, 6:1). Jesus, in today's Gospel, reinvigorates the three major works of mercy under the law of Moses. Almsgiving, prayer and fasting are the three foundational works of piety under Jewish law. Over time, these provisions had been eroded by a rigid external formalism, or even mutated into a sign of superiority. Jesus highlights in these three works of mercy a common temptation. When you do something good, almost instinctively comes the desire to be respected and admired for the good deed, to have that satisfaction.”

On the one hand, this makes you close in on yourself, and at the same time, removes you from yourself, because it is completely directed towards what others think of us and admire in us. In proposing these requirements, the Lord Jesus did not require a formal compliance with a law alien to man, imposed by a severe legislature as a heavy burden, but invites us to rediscover these three works of piety, living them in a deeper way, not for our own love, but for the love of God, as a means on our the path of conversion towards Him. Alms, fasting and prayer: this is the path of divine pedagogy that accompanies us, and not only in Lent, to our encounter with the Risen Lord, a path to be followed without ostentation, in the knowledge that our Heavenly Father knows how to read and see the inner depths of our hearts.”

Let us begin “our Lenten journey with trust and joy. Forty days separate us from Easter, this is a powerful time in the liturgical year, and it is a special time that is given to us to look, with greater commitment, to our conversion, to listen more attentively to the Word of God, a time for prayer and penance – of opening our hearts to the workings of Divine will, for a more generous practice of mortification, thanks to which we can be more attentive to neighbours in need: it is a spiritual journey that prepares us to relive the Paschal Mystery.”

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