Pope Francis holds the General Audience in St. Peter’s Square on Ash Wednesday, reflecting on the coming forty days of Lent.
(Full Text - Unofficial Translation from Vatican.va - replaces summary)
Pope Francis spoke to some 12,000 pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square, for the General Audience.
St. Peter's Square
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Catechesis - Lent: enter the desert
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the Lenten journey, a forty-day journey towards Easter, towards the heart of the liturgical year and of faith. It is a path that follows that of Jesus, who at the beginning of his ministry withdrew for forty days to pray and fast, tempted by the devil, in the desert. Just about the spiritual meaning of the desert I would like to speak to you today. What the desert spiritually means for all of us, even we who live in the city, what the desert means.
Let's imagine we are in a desert. The first sensation would be to find ourselves surrounded by a great silence: no noises, apart from the wind and our breath. Here, the desert is the place of detachment from the noise that surrounds us. It is the absence of words to make room for another Word, the Word of God, which caresses our hearts like a light breeze (cf. 1 Kings 19:12). The desert is the place of the Word, with a capital letter. In fact, in the Bible, the Lord loves to talk to us in the desert. In the desert he gives Moses the "ten words", the ten commandments. And when the people turn away from him, becoming like an unfaithful bride, God says: «Behold, I will lead her to the desert and speak to her heart. There he will answer me, as in the days of his youth "(Hos 2: 16-17). In the desert we hear the Word of God, which is like a light sound. The Book of Kings says that the Word of God is like a thread of sonorous silence. In the desert one finds intimacy with God, the love of the Lord. Jesus loved to withdraw every day to deserted places to pray (cf. Lk 5:16). He taught us how to look for the Father, who speaks to us in silence. And it is not easy to keep silence in the heart, because we always try to talk a little, to be with others.
Let's try to think of a desert again. The desert is the place of the essential. Let's look at our lives: how many useless things surround us! We chase a thousand things that seem necessary and in reality are not. How good it would be for us to get rid of so many superfluous realities, to rediscover what matters, to find the faces of those around us! Jesus also sets an example on this, fasting. Fasting is knowing how to give up vain things, the superfluous, to go to the essentials. Fasting is not just for weight loss, fasting is going to the essentials, it is seeking the beauty of a simpler life.
Finally, the desert is the place of solitude. Even today, near us, there are many deserts. They are lonely and abandoned people. How many poor and old people stand by us and live in silence, without making a fuss, marginalized and discarded! Talking about them doesn't make audiences. But the desert leads us to them, to those who, silenced, silently ask for our help. Many silent glances that ask for our help. The path in the Lenten desert is a path of charity towards the weaker.
Prayer, fasting, works of mercy: here is the road in the Lenten desert.
Dear brothers and sisters, with the voice of the prophet Isaiah, God has made this promise: "Behold, I am doing a new thing, I will open a road in the desert" (Is 43,19). The road that leads us from death to life opens up in the desert. “Lent is a time to disconnect from cell phones and connect to the Gospel,” he said, recalling that when he was a child there was no television, but his family would make a point of not listening to the radio.
“It is the time to give up useless words, chatter, rumors, gossip, and talk and to speak directly to the Lord,” he said, it is a time in which to dedicated ourselves to an ecology of the heart.
In a world in which we often struggle to distinguish the voice of the Lord, Jesus calls us into the desert and invites us to listen to what matters, Pope Francis explained. And he recalled that when the devil tempted Him, Jesus replied “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”
A place of silence and dialogue with the Lord
Thus the desert, represented by the journey of Lent, he continued, is a place of life, a place in which to dialogue in silence with the Lord who gives us life.
The Pope also reflected on how an important part of our Lenten desert experience is the practice of fasting, which trains us to recognize, in simplicity of heart, how often our lives are spent in empty and superficial pursuits.
“Fasting is being capable of giving up the superfluous and going to the essential. Fasting is not only losing weight, it is seeking the beauty of a simpler life,” he said. The road that leads us from death to life opens up in the desert. We enter the desert with Jesus, we will come out of it savoring Easter, the power of God's love that renews life. It will happen to us as to those deserts that bloom in the spring, making buds and plants suddenly sprout "out of nowhere". Courage, we enter this desert of Lent, we follow Jesus in the desert: with him our deserts will flourish.
Full Text + Image Vatican.va - Unofficial Translation