The 40 days of Lent are a reminder that we face spiritual deserts, and we must confront them with courage and the aid of Scripture, Pope Francis said during his weekly Angelus address. Delivering the Feb. 22 address from the papal apartments to a sizable crowd gathered in Saint Peter's Square, the Pope's remarks came on the first Sunday of Lent, hours before he embarked on a week-long Spiritual Exercises retreat with members of the Curia. The pontiff began his pre-Angelus reflection by speaking on the Gospel reading of the day, in which St. Mark gives an account of Christ's 40 days in the desert following the Baptism in the river Jordan. During this period, he recalled, Jesus was “tempted by Satan,” and “was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.” This “voluntary test confronted by Jesus” is one from which he “emerges victoriously and which prepares him to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom of God,” the Pope said. During the period in the desert, Jesus engaged in “hand-to-hand” combat with Satan, “unmasking his temptations” and being victorious against them, the Holy Father said. “Everyone has triumphed” in Jesus through this victory; however, “it is up to us to protect this victory in our daily lives.” Lent is a time of “spiritual battle against the spirit of evil,” Pope Francis said. “And as we cross the Lenten 'desert', we fix our gaze toward Easter, which is Jesus' definitive victory against Evil, against sin, and against death.” This is the significance of the first Sunday of Lent, the Holy Father continued: “to decisively lose ourselves on the path of Jesus, the path which leads to life.” He went on to highlight the desert as a place for listening to “God's voice and the tempter's voice,” which cannot otherwise be done amidst noise and confusion, in which “one only hears superficial voices.” Since God's voice is heard in His Word, the Pope reminded those present of the importance of reading the Scriptures daily, “because otherwise we do not know how to respond to the hidden dangers of evil.” This desert, he continued, “helps us to say no to worldliness, to idols,” while helping us “to make courageous choices in conformity to the Gospel,” reinforcing “solidarity with our brethren.” “Therefore, we enter into the desert without fear, because we are not alone: we are with Jesus, with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit.” In particular, Lent is a time of becoming “ever more aware of how much the Holy Spirit, (who we received) in Baptism, has worked and is able to work in us.” Before leading the crowds in the recitation of the Angelus, Pope Francis turned to Mary, the “model of docility to the Spirit,” who “helps us to allow ourselves to be guided by Him who wishes to make each one of us a 'new creation'.” The Pope prayed in particular for Mary's intercession during “this week of Spiritual exercises” in which he and members of the Curia were to take part, beginning Sunday afternoon. He then appealed to the faithful to pray for those taking part in the Exercises, they may “listen to the voice of Jesus and correct” their many defects, and “confront the temptations” which attack them daily. Following the recitation of the Marian prayer in Latin, Pope Francis greeted the various pilgrims from around Rome and the world, before introducing the distribution of prayer booklets to those in the square. “Lent is a journey of conversion,” he said, adding that “our heart must be converted to the Lord.” For this reason, Pope Francis took the first Sunday of Lent as an occasion to distribute small prayer booklets entitled “Custodisci il cuore” — “Guard your heart” — to those in Saint Peter's Square. Each booklet, distributed by volunteers in the square, contains various tenants of the faith, including the Seven Sacraments, Ten Commandments, a list of the virtues, and the works of mercy. The Pope said those in the square should carry with them this “richness of our doctrine,” in order “to guard the heart.” “Humanity needs justice, peace, love,” he said, and can have it only by turning with all its heart to God, who is the source of all these things.
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