Convert to the Love of God, Urges Pope

Says Lent Is a Time to Lose Ourselves

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 21, 2007 ( Benedict XVI proposed to Christians on Ash Wednesday that they live Lent as a privileged period of conversion, and to allow themselves to experience that God is love.

"May the Lenten period, which we undertake today, with the austere and significant rite of the imposition of ashes, be for all a renewed experience of the merciful love of Christ, who on the cross shed his blood for us," the Pope said.

The Holy Father presented his proposal during the weekly general audience, held in Paul VI Hall, and attended by nearly 10,000 people.

From the origins of the Church, "the whole of Lent was a journey toward this great encounter with Christ, toward immersion in Christ and the renewal of life," the Pontiff said.

Therefore, "Lent is an opportunity to 'be' Christians 'again,' through a constant process of interior change and of progress in knowledge and love of Christ," Benedict XVI stated.

He continued: "Conversion never takes place once and for all, but is a process, an interior journey of our whole life.

"From this point of view, for every Christian and for all ecclesial communities, Lent is the appropriate spiritual season to train with greater tenacity in the search for God, opening the heart to Christ."

Higher calling

"But what does conversion really mean?" the Holy Father asked.

The Pontiff said: "Conversion means to seek God, to walk with God, to follow docilely the teachings of his son, Jesus Christ; to be converted is not an effort to fulfill oneself, because the human being is not the architect of his own destiny.

"We have not made ourselves. Therefore, self-fulfillment is a contradiction and is too little for us. We have a higher destiny.

"We could say that conversion consists precisely in not considering ourselves 'creators' of ourselves, thus discovering the truth, because we are not authors of ourselves."

"Conversion consists in accepting freely and with love that we depend totally on God, our true Creator, that we depend on love," the Bishop of Rome added. "This is not dependence but liberty."

Benedict XVI said that "God is love and love is the secret of our happiness. However, to enter into this mystery of love there is no other way than that of losing ourselves, of giving ourselves to the way of the cross."

The Pope added: "Prayer, fasting and penance, works of charity toward brothers become in this way spiritual paths that we must undertake to return to God.

"Let us listen to him with docility to learn 'to regive' his love to our neighbor, especially those who are suffering and experiencing difficulties."