February 17, 2010.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Church’s Lenten journey towards Easter.
Lent reminds us, as Saint Paul exhorts, "not to accept the grace of God in vain" (cf. 2 Cor 6:1), but to recognize that today the Lord calls us to penance and spiritual renewal. This call to conversion is expressed in the two formulae used in the rite of the imposition of ashes. The first formula – "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel" – echoes Jesus’s words at the beginning of his public ministry (cf. Mk 1:15). It reminds us that conversion is meant to be a deep and lasting abandonment of our sinful ways in order to enter into a living relationship with Christ, who alone offers true freedom, happiness and fulfilment.
The second, older formula – "Remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return" – recalls the poverty and death which are the legacy of Adam’s sin, while pointing us to the resurrection, the new life and the freedom brought by Christ, the Second Adam. This Lent, through the practice of prayer and penance, and an ever more fruitful reception of the Church’s sacraments, may we make our way to Easter with hearts purified and renewed by the grace of this special season.
I welcome all the English-speaking visitors present at today’s Audience, especially those from England, Ireland and the United States. My special greeting goes to the members of the Movement Pro Sanctitate from Lithuania, led by Bishop Antons Justs. I also greet the many school and university students, including those from Bishop Hendrickson High School in Rhode Island, and I thank the choirs for their praise of God in song. Upon all of you I invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace!