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40 days in the desert: Pope speaks on significance of Lent

Catholic World News - February 22, 2012

At his weekly public audience on February 22, Ash Wednesday, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the significance of the 40-day penitential season of Lent.

Speaking to 7,500 people in the Paul VI auditorium, the Pope recalled that in the early Christian community the time before Easter was originally a time when catechumens were prepared for Baptism. Eventually all of the faithful were encouraged to join in the same process of penance and preparation. The Pope said:

The time leading up to Easter is a time of metanoia, a time of change and penance, a time which identifies our human lives and our entire history as a process of conversion, which begins to move now in order to meet the Lord at the end of time.

The 40 days of Lent have a symbolic importance, the Pope continued, noting the many times in Scripture when the same number figures in a period of preparation: the 40 days that Noah stayed on the Ark; the 40 days Moses remained on Mt. Sinai; the 40 years that the Hebrew people spent in the desert; the 40 days of penance by the people of Nineveh, the 40-year reigns of Kings Saul, David, and Solomon. Most relevant of all, the Pope said, is the 40 days that Jesus spent praying in the desert.

The Church is always praying in the desert, in a sense, the Pope said. He spoke of the desert created by “the aridity and poverty of words, life and values, of secularism and the culture of materialism which enclose people within a worldly horizon and detach them from any reference to transcendence.”

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