Entry 0335: Reflections on the First Sunday of Lent
by Pope Benedict XVI during His Pontificate
On eight occasions during his Pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI delivered reflections on the First Sunday of Lent, on 5 March 2006, 25 February 2007, 10 February 2008, 1 March 2009, 21 February 2010, 13 March 2011, 26 February 2012, and 17 February 2013. Here are the texts of eight brief reflections delivered on these occasions before the recitation of the Angelus.
Therefore let us not be afraid either of facing the battle against the spirit of evil: the important thing is to fight it with him, with Christ, the Conqueror. And to be with him let us turn to his Mother, Mary; let us call on her with filial trust in the hour of trial and she will make us feel the powerful presence of her divine Son, so that we can reject temptations with Christ’s word and thus put God back at the centre of our life.
Saint Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Lent, 5 March 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This past Wednesday we began Lent, and today we are celebrating the first Sunday of this liturgical season that encourages Christians to set out on a path of preparation for Easter.
Today, the Gospel reminds us that Jesus, after being baptized in the River Jordan and impelled by the Holy Spirit who settled upon him and revealed him as the Christ, withdrew for 40 days into the Desert of Judea where he overcame the temptations of Satan (see Mk 1: 12-13). Following their Teacher and Lord, Christians also enter the Lenten desert in spirit in order to face with him the “fight against the spirit of evil”.
The image of the desert is a very eloquent metaphor of the human condition. The Book of Exodus recounts the experience of the People of Israel who, after leaving
Egypt, wandered through the
for 40 years before they reached the Promised Land. desert of Sinai
During that long journey, the Jews experienced the full force and persistence of the tempter, who urged them to lose trust in the Lord and to turn back; but at the same time, thanks to Moses’ mediation, they learned to listen to God’s voice calling them to become his holy People.
In meditating on this biblical passage, we understand that to live life to the full in freedom we must overcome the test that this freedom entails, that is, temptation. Only if he is freed from the slavery of falsehood and sin can the human person, through the obedience of faith that opens him to the truth, find the full meaning of his life and attain peace, love and joy.
For this very reason Lent is a favourable time for a diligent revision of life through recollection, prayer and penance. The Spiritual Exercises, which will begin this evening in accordance with tradition and continue until next Saturday here in the
will help me and my collaborators in the Roman Curia to enter with greater awareness
into this characteristic Lenten atmosphere. Apostolic Palace
Dear brothers and sisters, as I ask you to accompany me with your prayers, I assure you of my remembrance to the Lord, so that Lent may be for all Christians an opportunity for conversion and a more courageous effort towards holiness. For this, let us invoke the Virgin Mary’s motherly intercession.
St Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Lent, 25 February 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This year the Message for Lent is inspired by a verse of John’s Gospel, which in turn refers to a messianic prophecy of Zechariah: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” (Jn 19: 37). The beloved disciple, present at Calvary together with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and some other women, was an eyewitness to the thrust of the lance that passed through Christ’s side, causing blood and water to flow forth (see Jn 19: 31-34). That gesture by an anonymous Roman soldier, destined to be lost in oblivion, remains impressed on the eyes and heart of the Apostle, who takes it up in his Gospel. How many conversions have come about down the centuries thanks to the eloquent message of love that the one who looks upon Jesus crucified receives!
Therefore, we enter into the Lenten Season with our “gaze” fixed on the side of Jesus. In the Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (see no. 12), I wished to emphasize that only by looking at Jesus dead on the Cross for us can this fundamental truth be known and contemplated: “God is love” (I Jn 4: 8, 16). “In this contemplation”, I wrote, “the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move” (no. 12).
Contemplating the Crucified One with the eyes of faith we can understand in depth what sin is, how tragic is its gravity, and at the same time, how immense is the Lord’s power of forgiveness and mercy.
During these days of Lent, let us not distance our hearts from this mystery of profound humanity and lofty spirituality. Looking at Christ, we feel at the same time looked at by him. He whom we have pierced with our faults never tires of pouring out upon the world an inexhaustible torrent of merciful love.
May humankind understand that only from this font is it possible to draw the indispensable spiritual energy to build that peace and happiness which every human being continually seeks.
Let us ask the Virgin Mary, pierced in spirit next to the Cross of her Son, to obtain for us a solid faith. Guiding us along the Lenten journey, may she help us to leave all that distances us from listening to Christ and his saving Word.
To her I entrust in particular the week of Spiritual Exercises that will begin this afternoon here in the
and in which I will participate along with my collaborators of the Roman Curia.
Dear brothers and sisters, I ask you to accompany us with your prayer, which I willingly reciprocate during the recollection of the retreat, invoking the divine power upon each of you, your families and your communities.
St Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Lent, 10 February 2008
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last Wednesday, we entered Lent with fasting and the Rite of Ashes. But what does “entering Lent” mean? It means we enter a season of special commitment in the spiritual battle to oppose the evil present in the world, in each one of us and around us. It means looking evil in the face and being ready to fight its effects and especially its causes, even its primary cause which is Satan.
It means not off-loading the problem of evil on to others, on to society or on to God but rather recognizing one’s own responsibility and assuming it with awareness. In this regard Jesus’ invitation to each one of us Christians to take up our “cross” and follow him with humility and trust (see Mt 16: 24) is particularly pressing. Although the “cross” may be heavy it is not synonymous with misfortune, with disgrace, to be avoided on all accounts; rather it is an opportunity to follow Jesus and thereby to acquire strength in the fight against sin and evil. Thus, entering Lent means renewing the personal and community decision to face evil together with Christ. The way of the Cross is in fact the only way that leads to the victory of love over hatred, of sharing over selfishness, of peace over violence. Seen in this light, Lent is truly an opportunity for a strong ascetic and spiritual commitment based on Christ’s grace.
This year the beginning of Lent providentially coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Apparitions in
Lourdes. Four years
after the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Blessed Pius
IX, Mary appeared to St Bernadette Soubirous for the first time on 11 February 1858
in the Grotto of Massabielle. Another three Apparitions accompanied by extraordinary
events followed in succession and finally the Blessed Virgin took her leave of the
young seer, in the local dialect, by disclosing to her: “I am the Immaculate Conception”.
The message that Our Lady continues to spread in Lourdes recalls the words that
Jesus spoke at the very beginning of his public mission, which we hear several times
during these days of Lent: “Repent, and believe
in the Gospel”, pray and do penance. Let us accept Mary’s invitation which echoes
Christ’s and ask her to obtain for us that we may “enter” Lent with faith, to live
this season of grace with inner joy and generous commitment.
Let us also entrust to the Virgin the sick and all who take loving care of them. Indeed, the World Day of the Sick will be celebrated tomorrow, the Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes. I wholeheartedly greet the pilgrims who will be gathering in St Peter’s Basilica, led by Cardinal Lozano Barragán, President of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care. Unfortunately I shall not be able to meet them because this evening I will begin Spiritual Exercises, but in silence and recollection I will pray for them and for all the needs of the Church and of the world. To all who desire to remember me to the Lord, I offer my sincere thanks from this moment.
Saint Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Lent, 1 March 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today is the First Sunday of Lent and the Gospel, in the sober and concise style of St Mark, introduces us into the atmosphere of this liturgical season: “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1: 12). In the Holy Land the Judean desert, which lies to the west of the River Jordan and the Oasis of Jericho, rises over stony valleys to reach an altitude of about 1,000 metres at
After receiving Baptism from John, Jesus entered that lonely place, led by the Holy
Spirit himself who had settled upon him, consecrating him and revealing him as the
Son of God. In the desert, a place of trial as the experience of the People of Israel
shows, the dramatic reality of the kenosis, the self-emptying of Christ who
had stripped himself of the form of God (see Phil 2: 6-7), appears most vividly.
He who never sinned and cannot sin submits to being tested and can therefore sympathize
with our weaknesses (see Heb 4: 15). He lets himself be tempted by Satan, the enemy,
who has been opposed to God’s saving plan for humankind from the outset.
In the succinct account, angels, luminous and mysterious figures, appear almost fleetingly before this dark, tenebrous figure who dares to tempt the Lord. Angels, the Gospel says, “ministered” to Jesus (Mk 1: 13); they are the antithesis of Satan. “Angel” means “messenger”. Throughout the Old Testament we find these figures who help and guide human beings on God’s behalf. It suffices to remember the Book of Tobit, in which the figure of the Angel Raphael appears and assists the protagonist in every vicissitude. The reassuring presence of the angel of the Lord accompanies the People of Israel in all of their experiences, good and bad. On the threshold of the New Testament, Gabriel is dispatched to announce to Zechariah and to Mary the joyful events at the beginning of our salvation; and an angel we are not told his name warns Joseph, guiding him in that moment of uncertainty. A choir of angels brings the shepherds the good news of the Saviour’s birth; and it was also to be angels who announced the joyful news of his Resurrection to the women. At the end of time, angels will accompany Jesus when he comes in his glory (see Mt 25: 31). Angels minister to Jesus, who is certainly superior to them. This dignity of his is clearly, if discreetly, proclaimed here in the Gospel. Indeed, even in the situation of extreme poverty and humility, when he is tempted by Satan he remains the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters, we would be removing an important part of the Gospel were we to leave out these beings sent by God, who announce and are a sign of his presence among us. Let us invoke them frequently, so that they may sustain us in our commitment to follow Jesus to the point of identifying with him. Let us ask them, especially today, to watch over me and my collaborators in the Roman Curia; this afternoon we shall be beginning a week of Spiritual Exercises, as we do every year. Mary, Queen of Angels, pray for us!
St Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Lent, 21 February 2010
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Last Wednesday, with the penitential Rite of Ashes we began Lent, a Season of spiritual renewal in preparation for the annual celebration of Easter. But what does it mean to begin the Lenten journey? The Gospel for this First Sunday of Lent illustrates it for us with the account of the temptations of Jesus in the desert. The Evangelist St Luke recounts that after receiving Baptism from John, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil” (Lk 4: 1). There is a clear insistence on the fact that the temptations were not just an incident on the way but rather the consequence of Jesus’ decision to carry out the mission entrusted to him by the Father to live to the very end his reality as the beloved Son who trusts totally in him. Christ came into the world to set us free from sin and from the ambiguous fascination of planning our life leaving God out. He did not do so with loud proclamations but rather by fighting the Tempter himself, until the Cross. This example applies to everyone: the world is improved by starting with oneself, changing, with God’s grace, everything in one’s life that is not going well.
The first of the three temptations to which Satan subjects Jesus originates in hunger, that is, in material need: “If you are the Son of God command this stone to become bread”. But Jesus responds with Sacred Scripture: “Man shall not live by bread alone” (Lk 4: 3-4; see Dt 8: 3). Then the Devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth and says: all this will be yours if, prostrating yourself, you worship me. This is the deception of power, and an attempt which Jesus was to unmask and reject: “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (see Lk 4: 5-8; Dt 6: 13). Not adoration of power, but only of God, of truth and love. Lastly, the Tempter suggests to Jesus that he work a spectacular miracle: that he throw himself down from the pinnacle of the
and let the angels save him so that everyone might believe in him. However, Jesus
answers that God must never be put to the test (see Dt 6: 16). We cannot “do an
experiment” in which God has to respond and show that he is God: we must believe
in him! We should not make God “the substance” of “our experiment”. Still referring
to Sacred Scripture, Jesus puts the only authentic criterion obedience, conformity
to God’s will, which is the foundation of our existence before human criteria. This
is also a fundamental teaching for us: if we carry God’s word in our minds and hearts,
if it enters our lives, if we trust in God, we can reject every kind of deception
by the Tempter. Furthermore, Christ’s image as the new Adam emerges clearly from
this account. He is the Son of God, humble and obedient to the Father, unlike Adam
and Eve who in the Garden of Eden succumbed to the seduction of the evil spirit,
of being immortal without God.
Lent is like a long “retreat” in which to re-enter oneself and listen to God’s voice in order to overcome the temptations of the Evil One and to find the truth of our existence. It is a time, we may say, of spiritual “training” in order to live alongside Jesus not with pride and presumption but rather by using the weapons of faith: namely prayer, listening to the Word of God and penance. In this way we shall succeed in celebrating Easter in truth, ready to renew our baptismal promises. May the Virgin Mary help us so that, guided by the Holy Spirit, we may live joyfully and fruitfully this Season of grace. May she intercede in particular for me and for my collaborators of the Roman Curia, who begin the Spiritual Exercises this evening.
St Peter’s Square, First Sunday of Lent, 13 March 2011
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This is the First Sunday of Lent, the liturgical Season of 40 days which constitutes a spiritual journey in the Church of preparation for Easter. Essentially it is a matter of following Jesus who is walking with determination towards the Cross, the culmination of his mission of salvation. If we ask ourselves: “Why Lent? Why the Cross?”, the answer in radical terms is this: because evil exists, indeed sin, which according to the Scriptures is the profound cause of all evil. However this affirmation is far from being taken for granted and the very word “sin” is not accepted by many because it implies a religious vision of the world and of the human being.
In fact it is true: if God is eliminated from the world’s horizon, one cannot speak of sin. As when the sun is hidden, shadows disappear. Shadows only appear if the sun is out; hence the eclipse of God necessarily entails the eclipse of sin. Therefore the sense of sin — which is something different from the “sense of guilt” as psychology understands it — is acquired by rediscovering the sense of God. This is expressed by the Miserere Psalm, attributed to King David on the occasion of his double sin of adultery and homicide: “Against you”, David says, addressing God, “against you only have I sinned” (Ps 51(50):6).
In the face of moral evil God’s attitude is to oppose sin and to save the sinner. God does not tolerate evil because he is Love, Justice and Fidelity; and for this very reason he does not desire the death of the sinner but wants the sinner to convert and to live. To save humanity God intervenes: we see him throughout the history of the Jewish people, beginning with the liberation from
Egypt. God is determined to deliver
his children from slavery in order to lead them to freedom. And the most serious
and profound slavery is precisely that of sin.
For this reason God sent his Son into the world: to set men and women free from the domination of Satan, “the origin and cause of every sin”. God sent him in our mortal flesh so that he might become a victim of expiation, dying for us on the Cross. The Devil opposed this definitive and universal plan of salvation with all his might, as is shown in particular in the Gospel of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness which is proclaimed every year on the First Sunday of Lent. In fact, entering this liturgical season means continuously taking Christ’s side against sin, facing — both as individuals and as Church — the spiritual fight against the spirit of evil each time (Ash Wednesday, Opening Prayer).
Let us therefore invoke the maternal help of Mary Most Holy for the Lenten journey that has just begun, so that it may be rich in fruits of conversion. I ask for special remembrance in prayer for myself and for my co-workers in the Roman Curia, as we shall begin the week of Spiritual Exercises this evening.
St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, 26 February 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
On this First Sunday of Lent we meet Jesus who, after receiving Baptism from John the Baptist in the River Jordan (see Mk 1:9), is subjected to temptation in the wilderness (see Mk 1:12-13). St Mark’s concise narrative lacks the details we read in the other two Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The wilderness referred to has various meanings. It can indicate the state of abandonment and loneliness, the “place” of human weakness, devoid of support and safety, where temptation grows stronger.
However, it can also indicate a place of refuge and shelter — as it was for the People of Israel who had escaped from slavery in Egypt — where it is possible to experience God’s presence in a special way. Jesus “was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan” (Mk 1:13). St Leo the Great comments that “The Lord wanted to suffer the attack of the tempter in order to defend us with his help and to instruct us with his example (Tractatus XXXIX,3 De ieiunio quadragesimae: CCL 138/A, Turnholti 1973, 214-215).
What can this episode teach us? As we read in the book The Imitation of Christ, “There is no man wholly free from temptations so long as he lives... but by endurance and true humility we are made stronger than all our enemies” (Liber I, C. XIII, Vatican City 1982, 37), endurance and the humility of following the Lord every day, learning not to build our lives outside him or as though he did not exist, but in him and with him, for he is the source of true life.
The temptation to remove God, to arrange things within us and in the world by ourselves, relying on our own abilities, has always been present in human history.
Jesus proclaims that “the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mk 1:15), he announces that in him something new happens: God turns to the human being in an unexpected way, with a unique, tangible closeness, full of love; God is incarnate and enters the human world to take sin upon himself, to conquer evil and usher men and women into the world of God.
However, this proclamation is accompanied by the request to measure up to such a great gift. In fact Jesus adds: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mk 1:15). It is an invitation to have faith in God and to convert all our actions and thoughts to goodness, every day. The season of Lent is a favourable moment for renewing and reinforcing our relationship with God, through daily prayer, acts of penance and works of brotherly charity.
Let us fervently beg Mary Most Holy to accompany us on our Lenten journey with her protection and to help us to impress the words of Jesus Christ in our hearts and in our lives so as to convert to him. In addition, I entrust to your prayers the week of Spiritual Exercises which I shall begin this evening with my co-workers in the Roman Curia.
Saint Peter’s Square, Sunday, 17 February 2013
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With the traditional Rite of Ashes last Wednesday we entered Lent, a season of conversion and penance in preparation for Easter. The Church who is mother and teacher calls all her members to renew themselves in spirit and to turn once again with determination to God, renouncing pride and selfishness, to live in love. This Year of Faith Lent is a favourable time for rediscovering faith in God as the basic criterion for our life and for the life of the Church. This always means a struggle, a spiritual combat, because the spirit of evil is naturally opposed to our sanctification and seeks to make us stray from God’s path. For this reason the Gospel of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness is proclaimed every year on the First Sunday of Lent.
Indeed, after receiving the “investiture” as Messiah “Annointed” with the Holy Spirit at the baptism in the Jordan Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit himself to be tempted by the devil. At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus had to unmask himself and reject the false images of the Messiah which the tempter was suggesting to him. Yet these temptations are also false images of man that threaten to ensnare our conscience, in the guise of suitable, effective and even good proposals. The Evangelists Matthew and Luke present three temptations of Jesus that differ slightly, but only in their order. Their essential core is always the exploitation of God for our own interests, giving preference to success or to material possessions. The tempter is cunning. He does not directly impel us towards evil but rather towards a false good, making us believe that the true realities are power and everything that satisfies our primary needs. In this way God becomes secondary, he is reduced to a means; in short, he becomes unreal, he no longer counts, he disappears. Ultimately, in temptation faith is at stake because God is at stake. At the crucial moments in life but also, as can be seen at every moment, we stand at a crossroads: do we want to follow our own ego or God? Our individual interests or the true Good, to follow what is really good?
As the Fathers of the Church teach us, the temptations are part of Jesus’ “descent” into our human condition, into the abyss of sin and its consequences; a “descent” that Jesus made to the end, even to death on the Cross and to the hell of extreme remoteness from God. In this way he is the hand that God stretches out to man, to the lost sheep, to bring him back to safety. As
teaches, Jesus took the temptations from us to give us his victory (see Enarr.
in Psalmos, 60, 3: pl 36, 724).
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