Here are some excerpts from the Holy Father's Wednesday audience yesterday, which also happened to be the first day of this season of Lent:
...Using an expression that has become customary in the Liturgy, the Church calls the season we have entered today “Lent”; that is, the season of 40 days; and with a clear reference to Sacred Scripture, she thereby introduces us into a precise spiritual context. Forty, in fact, is the symbolic number that the Old and New Testaments use to represent the salient moments in the life and faith of Israel. It is a number that expresses the time of waiting, of purification, of return to the Lord, of knowledge that God is faithful to His promises. This number does not represent an exact chronological period of time, marked by the sum of its days. Rather, it indicates a patient perseverance, a long trial, a sufficient length of time to witness the works of God and a time when it is necessary to decide to accept one’s responsibilities without further delay. It is a time for mature decisions.
....This ambivalence, a time of special closeness to God -- the time of first love -- as well as a time of temptation -- the temptation to return to paganism -- we surprisingly rediscover in Jesus’ earthy sojourn; naturally, however, without any compromise with sin. After His baptism of penance in the Jordan -- when He takes upon Himself the destiny of God’s Servant, who renounces himself and lives for others and takes his place among sinners in order to take upon himself the sin of the world -- Jesus goes into the desert and remains there for 40 days in profound union with the Father, thus repeating the history of Israel, all the rhythms of the 40 days or years I mentioned. This dynamic is a constant during the earthly life of Jesus, who always seeks moments of solitude in order to pray to His Father and to remain in intimate communion, in intimate solitude with Him, in exclusive communion with Him, then to return among the people. But in this time of “desert” and of special encounter with the Father, Jesus is exposed to danger and is assailed by temptation and the seduction of the Evil One, who proposes another Messianic way, one distant from God’s design, for it passes by way of power, success, and domination and not by way of the total gift of the Cross. These are the alternatives: a Messianism of power, of success, or a Messianism of love, of self-gift.
...This situation of ambivalence also characterizes the condition of the Church as she journeys in the “desert” of the world and of history. In this “desert,” we who believe certainly have the opportunity to have a profound experience of God, who strengthens the spirit, confirms faith, nourishes hope and inspires charity. It is an experience that makes us sharers in Christ’s victory over sin and death through His Sacrifice of love on the Cross. But the “desert” is also a negative aspect of the reality that surrounds us: aridity; the poverty of words of life and values; secularism and cultural materialism, which enclose people within the worldly horizons of an existence bereft of all reference to the transcendent. This is also the environment in which even heaven above us is obscured, for it is covered by the clouds of egoism, misunderstanding and deception. Despite this, also for the Church today, time spent in the desert can be transformed into a time of grace, for we have the certainty that God can make the living water that quenches thirst and brings refreshment gush forth even from the hardest rock.
The Church’s Lenten discipline is meant to help deepen our life of faith and our imitation of Christ in his paschal mystery. In these forty days may we draw nearer to the Lord by meditating on his word and example, and conquer the desert of our spiritual aridity, selfishness and materialism.