By Benedict XVI
Lenten message (2011) ear Brothers and Sisters, the Lenten period, which leads us to the celebration of Holy Easter, is for the Church a most valuable and important liturgical time, in view of which I am pleased to offer a specific word in order that it may be lived with due diligence. As she awaits the definitive encounter with her Spouse in the eternal Easter, the Church community, assiduous in prayer and charitable works, intensifies her journey in purifying the spirit, so as to draw more abundantly from the Mystery of Redemption the new life in Christ the Lord.
This very life was already bestowed upon us on the day of our baptism, when we “become sharers in Christ’s death and Resurrection”, and there began for us “the joyful and exulting adventure of his disciples”. In his Letters, St Paul repeatedly insists on the singular communion with the Son of God that this washing brings about. The fact that, in most cases, baptism is received in infancy highlights how it is a gift of God: no one earns eternal life through their own efforts. The mercy of God, which cancels sin and, at the same time, allows us to experience in our lives “the mind of Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5), is given to men and women freely. The Apostle to the Gentiles, in the Letter to the Philippians, expresses the meaning of the transformation that takes place through participation in the death and resurrection of Christ, pointing to its goal: that “I may come to know him and the power of his resurrection, and partake of his sufferings by being moulded to the pattern of his death, striving towards the goal of resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11). Hence, baptism is not a rite from the past, but the encounter with Christ, which informs the entire existence of the baptised, imparting divine life and calling for sincere conversion; initiated and supported by Grace, it permits the baptised to reach the adult stature of Christ.
A particular connection binds baptism to Lent as the favourable time to experience this saving Grace. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council exhorted all of the Church’s Pastors to make greater use “of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy”. In fact, the Church has always associated the Easter Vigil with the celebration of baptism: this Sacrament realises the great mystery in which man dies to sin, is made a sharer in the new life of the Risen Christ and receives the same Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead. This free gift must always be rekindled in each one of us, and Lent offers us a path like that of the catechumenate, which, for the Christians of the early Church, just as for catechumens today, is an irreplaceable school of faith and Christian life. Truly, they live their baptism as an act that shapes their entire existence.
In order to undertake more seriously our journey towards Easter and prepare ourselves to celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord – the most joyous and solemn feast of the entire liturgical year – what could be more appropriate than allowing ourselves to be guided by the Word of God? For this reason, the Church, in the Gospel texts of the Sundays of Lent, leads us to a particularly intense encounter with the Lord, calling us to retrace the steps of Christian initiation: for catechumens, in preparation for receiving the sacrament of rebirth; for the baptised, in light of the new and decisive steps to be taken in the sequela Christi and a fuller giving of oneself to him. The First Sunday of the Lenten journey reveals our condition as human beings here on earth. The victorious battle against temptation, the starting point of Jesus’s mission, is an invitation to become aware of our own fragility in order to accept the grace that frees from sin and infuses new strength in Christ – the way, the truth and the life.
It is a powerful reminder that Christian faith implies, following the example of Jesus and in union with him, a battle “against the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world” (Eph 6: 12), in which the devil is at work and never tires – even today – of tempting whoever wishes to draw close to the Lord: Christ emerges victorious to open also our hearts to hope and guide us in overcoming the seductions of evil.
The Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord puts before our eyes the glory of Christ, which anticipates the resurrection and announces the divinisation of man. The Christian community becomes aware that Jesus leads it, like the Apostles Peter, James and John “up a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1), to receive once again in Christ, as sons and daughters in the Son, the gift of the Grace of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him” (Mt 17: 5). It is the invitation to take a distance from the noisiness of everyday life in order to immerse oneself in God’s presence. He desires to hand down to us, each day, a Word that penetrates the depths of our spirit, where we discern good from evil (cf Heb 4:12), reinforcing our will to follow the Lord.
The question that Jesus puts to the Samaritan woman: “Give me a drink” (Jn 4: 7), is presented to us in the liturgy of the third Sunday; it expresses the passion of God for every man and woman, and wishes to awaken in our hearts the desire for the gift of “a spring of water within, welling up for eternal life” (Jn 4: 14): this is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who transforms Christians into “true worshippers”, capable of praying to the Father “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4: 23). Only this water can extinguish our thirst for goodness, truth and beauty!