Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
This year, I begin my annual Lenten message by sharing with you a short passage whose significance has never lessened even though I first read it many years ago. "The daily living out of Christian faith is more than an assent to doctrine: it is discipleship. The pupil can sit at his teacher's feet; the disciple must follow in his Master's footsteps though they lead him to a hill named after a skull."
And so, as you and I prepare to embark upon the Church's annual Lenten pilgrimage on Ash Wednesday, February 21, we fix our eyes on the horizon of Golgotha, the hill named after a skull, where "They shall look on Him whom they have pierced" (Jn.19:37). This is the theme chosen by Pope Benedict XVI to guide our Lenten reflection this year. Gazing on the scene of Golgotha, we see our Blessed Mother, the beloved disciple St. John, and Mary Magdalene — so full of grief, love and trust — at the foot of the cross.
On Ash Wednesday, as we receive the imposition of ashes on our forehead, the outward sign of our desire to be converted and reformed more clearly into the image of Jesus Christ, will we "come out of ourselves in order to open ourselves, in trustful abandonment, to the merciful embrace of the Father" (Lenten Message, Pope Benedict XVI, 2007)? I pray, that imitating our Blessed Lady, our response will be "Yes!"
As we journey together this Lent, our daily companions will be three: prayer, fasting or penance, and alms giving or deeds of mercy. In prayer, we contemplate "Him whom they have pierced." Whether in our personal prayer at home, participating in the sacred liturgy at church, making the Stations of the Cross or reflecting on Jesus and Mary in the rosary, we are fixing our eyes on Jesus our Lord and Savior and are being transformed by His faithful love. By fasting or penance, we are strengthened to turn aside from selfishness and sin and also offer reparation for our sins and those of others. Through alms giving or deeds of mercy, we become the instruments of Christ's love and compassion to those who are in need, materially and spiritually.
How beautifully Pope Benedict XVI expresses the purpose of our Lenten pilgrimage! "May Lent be for every Christian a renewed experience of God's love given to us in Christ, a love that each day we, in turn, must ‘regive' to our neighbor, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need. Only in this way will we be able to participate fully in the joy of Easter."
My dear brothers and sisters, may "Mary Mother of Beautiful Love" and the Mother of "Him whom they have pierced" "guide us in this Lenten journey" — the journey we disciples must make, following in the steps of the Master all the way to the hill named after a skull. There, may we experience true conversion to the love of Christ. There, may we be led by Him from death — to sin and selfishness — to the new life of grace and agape love. This is my prayer for all of us as we once again journey together through Lent.