Lent, the liturgical time that refers to the forty days Jesus spent in the desert after his baptism in the river Jordan, was the subject of the Pope’s reflection before Angelus prayer on Sunday, February 22 with the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square.
On the first Sunday of Lent, Francis explained that during these forty days of solitude in which Jesus prepared himself to announce the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, he “faces Satan ‘body to body’, he unmasks his temptations and is victorious. And in Him we all win, but it is up to us to protect this victory in our daily life”.
“The Church reminds us of this mystery at the beginning of every Lenten period”, he continued, “because it gives us the prospect and the meaning of this time, which is a time of combat – during Lent one must fight – a time of spiritual combat against the spirit of evil. And while we cross the Lenten ‘desert’, we keep our gaze fixed upon Easter, the definitive victory of Jesus against the Evil One, against sin and against death. This, then, is the meaning of this first Sunday of Lent: placing ourselves on the path of Christ, the road that leads to life”.
“And this, Jesus’ path, passes through the desert, … the place where both the voice of God and the voice of the Tempter can be heard. Amid noise and confusion; only superficial voices can be heard. Instead, in the desert we are able to descend to the depths, where our destiny is truly played out, life or death. And how do we hear the voice of God? We hear it in His Word. This is why it is important to know the Scripture, as otherwise we do not know how to respond to the deceptions of the Evil One. … Always keep a copy of the Gospel to hand. The Lenten desert helps us to say no to worldliness, to ‘idols’; it helps us to make courageous decisions consistent with the Gospel and to strengthen solidarity with our brothers”.
“Therefore, let us enter into the desert without fear, because we are not alone; we are with Jesus, with the Father and with the Holy Spirit”, added the Holy Father. “Lent is an auspicious time to lead us to be increasingly aware of how much the Holy Spirit, received in baptism, has worked and can work in us. At the end of the Lenten itinerary, on the Easter Vigil, we are able to renew the baptismal alliance and the duties that derive from this with greater awareness”.
The Pope completed his reflection by entrusting to the Virgin the week of Spiritual Exercises that began yesterday afternoon, and in which his collaborators in the Roman Curia will also participate. He asked those present to pray, “so that in this ‘desert’ of the Spiritual Exercises, we can hear the voice of Jesus and also correct many flaws that we all have, and also to face up to the temptations that assail us every day. I therefore ask you to accompany us with your prayer”.
Following the Angelus prayer, the Pope referred again to Lent, “a path of conversion whose centre is the heart”, and gave the faithful present in the square a small booklet entitled “Custodisci il cuore”, “Safeguard your heart”. Distributed by a group of volunteers, including various homeless persons, it brings together a number of Jesus’ teachings and the essential content of the faith, such as for instance the seven Sacraments, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the ten commandments, the virtues, the works of mercy, and so on.
“As is always the case, today in the square the needy give us a great wealth: the wealth of our doctrine to safeguard the heart”, he remarked, referring to the work of the homeless volunteers. “Take a booklet and carry it with you, to help in spiritual conversion and growth, which always starts from the heart: there, where the daily choices between good and evil are made, between worldliness and the Gospel, between indifference and sharing. Humanity needs justice, peace and love, and will obtain this only by returning wholeheartedly to God, the source”.