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Ash Wednesday
is the beginning of our
Lenten Journey and is a day of Fast and Abstinance.

Fasting is restricting eating to one
full meal and two lighter meals in the course of a single day, and prohibits
eating between meals. Adults who have not yet reached their sixtieth year are
bound by the Canon Law to fast. Pregnant women and people who are sick are not
obligated to fast.
Abstinence is refraining from eating meat. People
who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the Canon Law to abstain.

Anyone
who feels that they cannot fulfill the law of abstinence or the
law of fasting should consult a parish priest or confessor.

The Words of Pope John Paul II are timeless… Let us reflect
on the Homily given by the Pope last Ash Wednesday…

Celebration of the
Word in St. Peter's Basilica

1. "Your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Mt 6: 4, 6, 18).
Jesus' words are addressed to each one of us at the beginning of our Lenten
journey. We begin it with the imposition of ashes, an austere penitential
gesture very dear to Christian tradition. It emphasizes the awareness of sinners
as they stand before the majesty and holiness of God. At the same time, it
demonstrates readiness to accept and to transform into concrete choices
adherence to the Gospel.

The formulas that accompany it are very eloquent. The first, from
the Book of Genesis: "You are dust and to dust you shall return"
(Gen 3: 19), calls to mind the present human condition, marked by
transitoriness and limitation. The second one takes up the words of the
Gospel: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mk 1: 15), which
are a pressing appeal to change one's life. Both these formulas invite us to
enter Lent in an attitude of listening and sincere conversion.

2. The Gospel emphasizes that the Lord "sees in secret",
that is, he scrutinizes our hearts. The external gestures of penance are
valuable if they are an expression of an inner attitude and demonstrate the firm
determination to shun evil and to take the path of righteousness. This is the
profound sense of Christian ascesis.

"Ascesis": the very word evokes the image of ascending to
lofty heights
. This necessarily entails sacrifices and renunciation. Indeed,
to make the journey easier, one must be reduced to the bare essentials; to be
prepared to face every hardship and overcome every obstacle in order to reach
the pre-established goal. To become authentic disciples of Christ, it is
necessary to deny oneself, take up one's cross and follow him (cf. Lk
9: 23). This is the arduous path to holiness that every baptized person is
called to follow.

3. The Church has always pointed out certain useful means for
taking this route. They consist above all in humble and docile adherence to
God's will
accompanied by ceaseless prayer; they are the typical
forms of penance
of Christian tradition, such as abstinence, fasting,
mortification and giving up even good things legitimate in themselves; they are
the concrete acts of acceptance of our neighbour that are referred to in
today's Gospel with the term "giving alms". All these things are suggested once
again but with greater intensity during the season of Lent, which in this regard
is a "strong moment" for spiritual training and generous service to our brothers
and sisters.
Who needs protection more than a frail, defenceless child?

4. In my Lenten Message , by recalling Christ's words: "Whoever receives one such child
in my name receives me" (Mt 18: 5), I wanted to draw special attention to
the difficult conditions in which so many of the world's children live. Indeed,
who needs to be defended and protected more than a frail and defenceless little
child?

The world of childhood is beset by many complex problems. I warmly
hope that our solidarity will mean that proper care is given to these, the
smallest of our brethren, who are often left to themselves. This is a concrete
way of expressing our Lenten resolve.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us begin Lent with these
sentiments: it is a journey of prayer, penance and genuine Christian
ascesis
. May Mary, Mother of Christ, go with us. May her example and
intercession help us to proceed joyfully on our way towards Easter.

Ash Wednesday, 25 February
2004

Source: http://www.vatican.va/news_services/

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