The Lenten season is a time of spiritual combat in which “we have our gazed fixed upon Easter, which is the definitive victory of Jesus against the Evil One.” With these words, Pope Francis addressed the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square on the First Sunday of Lent.
The Holy Father reflected on today’s Gospel which recalls Jesus’ 40 days in the desert where He was tempted by Satan. During that time, the Pope said, Christ engaged in “close combat” and was victorious over temptation.
“The Church reminds us of that mystery at the beginning of Lent, so that it may give us the perspective and the meaning of this time, which is a time of combat,” he said. “A spiritual combat against the spirit of evil; and while we cross the Lenten “desert”, we have our gazed fixed upon Easter, which is the definitive victory of Jesus against the Evil One, against sin and against death.”
Francis went on to say that the meaning of the First Sunday of Lent is to place ourselves on the path of Christ, who is “the road that leads to life.”
Continuing his address, the Pope reflected on the significance of the desert, a place where both the voice of God and the voice of the Tempter can be heard. The Holy Father stressed that like Jesus, Christians must know Scripture; “otherwise we do not know how to respond to the attacks of the Evil One.”
The 78 year old Pontiff reminded the faithful once again to carry a pocket-sized Gospel and meditate upon it every day.
“Always have the Gospel in hand,” he said. “The Lenten desert helps us to say no to worldliness, to the ‘idols’, it helps us to make courageous choices in accordance with the Gospel and to strengthen solidarity among the brothers.”
Before leading the faithful in the Angelus prayer, the Holy Father encouraged the faithful to enter into the “Lenten desert” without fear, saying that “we are not alone: we are with Jesus, with the Father and with the Holy Spirit.
“Lent, he said, “is an appropriate time that should lead us to be ever more aware of how much the Holy Spirit, received in Baptism, has worked and can work in us. And in the end of the Lenten itinerary, in the Easter Vigil, we can renew with greater awareness the Baptismal covenant and the commitments that flow from it.”
The Pope also entrusted this week’s Spiritual Exercises to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Holy Father along with members of the Roman Curia will depart for the Roman town of Arriccia, where they will hold a week long Lenten retreat.
“I ask that you pray for us, that in the desert of the spiritual exercise, we may listen to the voice of Jesus, and also correct so many defects that we have. And to also confront the temptations that attacks us every day. I ask you therefore to accompany us with your prayers,” he said.
Guard Your Hearts
Following the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis greeted the various groups present in the square and reminded them that the Lenten season is a “path of conversion that has the heart at its center.”
The Holy Father then told the faithful that he had a gift for them: a pocket-sized book entitled “Custodisci il cuore” (Guard your hearts). “This book collects some teachings of Jesus and the essential contents of our faith, for example the seven Sacraments, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Ten Commandments, the Virtues, the works of mercy,” he said.
The books were distributed by a group of homeless people who were on pilgrimage in Rome. The group was present in the square accompanied by Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, the Papal Almoner.
“As always, here in the square, with those who are in need, they are the same ones who bring us a great wealth,” the Pope said.
“The wealth of our doctrine to guard your heart,” he continued. “Each one of you take a booklet and carry it with you, as a help for spiritual conversion and growth that always starts from the heart: there where the match of daily choices between good and evil are played, between worldliness and the Gospel, between indifference and sharing.
“Humanity is in need of justice, of peace, love,” he concluded, “and will have it only by returning with their whole heart to God, who is the source.”
Before departing, Pope Francis once again asked the faithful to pray for him and the members of the Roman Curia during their week of Spiritual Exercises.