JOHN PAUL II
1. The general audience today, Ash Wednesday, is characterized
by a special spirit of prayer, reflection and penitence. With the whole Church
we begin a 40-day journey in preparation for Easter, with the austere sign of
the imposition of ashes coupled with the word of Christ: "Repent
and believe in the Gospel". The Church reminds every human being of his
condition as sinner and the need for repentance and conversion.
2. In this year's Lenten Message, published a few days ago, I wished to indicate to the whole Catholic world the theme of the free giftedness (gratuità) of the initiative of God in our lives, an essential element of the whole Biblical revelation. Lent is "a providential time for conversion", because it "helps us to contemplate this stupendous mystery of love" on account of which Jesus exhorts us: "You received without paying, give without pay" (Mt 10,8). We can see how the Lenten journey is shown in its deepest reality as "a return to the roots of our faith, so that by pondering the measureless gift of grace which is Redemption, we cannot fail to realize that all has been given to us by God's loving initiative" (Message for Lent, n. 1, L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, n. 6, 6 February 2002, p. 1).
The Apostle Paul expresses with incisive and timely phrases the free giftedness (gratuità) of the grace of God, who reconciled us with himself out of love. In fact he reminds us: "Why one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Rom 5,7-8). That God who in his immense love created us, and who also out of love destined us to full communion with himself, awaits from us a similar generous, free and conscious response.
3. The journey of conversion, that we confidently undertake
today, enters fully into this original exchange of love and free gift (gratuità).
Are not the almsgiving and the charitable activity which we are invited to
perform, particularly during this season of penance, a response to the free
gift (gratuità) of divine grace? If we have received a free
gift, it is with a free gift that we should give back (cf. Mt 10,8).
We entrust these forty days of intense prayer and penance to the Virgin Mary, the "Mother of Fair Love". May she guide us and lead us to celebrate worthily the great mystery of the Passover of Christ, supreme revelation of the free and merciful love of our heavenly Father.
At the end of his talk, the Holy Father then gave a summary to the pilgrims in French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Flemish, Slovak, and Italian. He greeted the English-speaking pilgrims.
I warmly welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially those from England and the United States of America. May these days of Lent be a time of renewal and blessing for you all!