BY CINDY WOODEN IN ROME LENT IS A TIME when some people complete their preparation to be baptised at Easter and a time when the baptised "learn to become Christian again," Pope Benedict XVI has said.
Although following Christ requires daily prayer and effort, Lent is a time for intensive training for living the Christian life, the Pope said on Ash Wednesday.
Jesus called people to "convert and believe in the Gospel", he said. "Conversion, what is it really? To convert means to seek God, to go to him, to follow docilely the teaching of his Son, Jesus Christ," the Pope said.
"Conversion is not an effort for self-realisation because the human being is not the architect of his own eternal destiny," he said. "We are not our own makers, and so self-realisation is a contradiction."
Conversion means recognising that God is the origin and destination of all human life and, therefore, one's efforts and actions must be dedicated to discovering God's will and obeying it, the Pope said. "Conversion means not pursu ing,personal success, which is something that will pass, but abandoning human security and following the Lord with simplicity and trust," he said.
Pope Benedict told an estimated 6,000 audience participants that in his message for Lent he "wanted to focus on the immense love God has for us", a love that is so great that he allowed his Son to die in order to save people . "The cross is the definitive revelation of divine love and mercy," he said.
"God is love, and his love is the secret of our happiness," he said. By undertaking a Lenten journey of prayer, reflection, penance, sacrifice and works of charity, he said, Christians overcome their own selfishness and grow in realisation of how great God's love is.
Pope Benedict prayed that during Lent Christians would be overwhelmed by God's love and learn to pass it on "to our neighbours, especially those who are suffering or are in difficulty".
He later urged Catholics to rediscover the traditional "penitential weapons" cf prayer, fasting and works of charity in order to make Lent a time of inner renewal. He made the comments during a Mass at the Basilica of Santa Sabina in central Rome. The liturgy began with a procession from the nearby Church of St Anselm on the Aventine Hill.
The Pope. dressed in the purple vestments of the Lenten season, said the 40 days leading up to Easter should be a time to revive the "friendship with God that was lost through sin".
The Church, he said, offers the same ascetic instruments that have proven effective through the centuries.
"Jesus indicates the useful instruments needed for authentic interior and community renewal: the works of charity or almsgiving, prayer, and penitence or fasting," the Pope said.
He said these practices should be performed to please God and not to gain people's approval. Fasting, in particular, should not be motivated by physical or aesthetic concerns, but by people's need for "inner purification and detoxification from the contamination of sin and evil", he said.
During the Mass, Pope Benedict placed ashes on the foreheads of cardinals, bishops, monks and lay faithful.