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 CNS Story:

POPE-ASHES Feb-6-2008 (390 words) xxxi

Hope without prayer is illusion, pope says at Ash Wednesday Mass

By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Hope that is not accompanied by prayerful dialogue with God is just mere illusion and an escape from reality, Pope Benedict XVI said during a Mass to mark the beginning of Lent.

Prayer also nourishes hope, he said, "because nothing other than praying with faith expresses the reality of God (being) in our life."

Pope Benedict, dressed in the purple vestments of the Lenten season, celebrated an Ash Wednesday Mass Feb. 6 at Rome's Basilica of Santa Sabina. The liturgy began with a procession from the nearby Church of St. Anselm on the Aventine Hill.

The pope placed ashes on a long line of cardinals, bishops, monks and lay faithful, tracing a cross on the top of the head according to the Ash Wednesday custom in Italy.

In his homily, the pope focused on the importance of prayer and sacrifice during Lent.

Prayer is a powerful weapon with which to "victoriously face the battle against the spirit of evil," he said.

"Before great danger, one needs an even greater hope," and this can only be found in the hope that comes from knowing one can rely on God for everything, he said.

Through prayer, one's dreams and longings "are exposed to the light of the word of God," he said, thus freeing them from hidden lies and compromises rooted in egoism.

Without prayer, the human individual "ends up closed inside oneself, and the conscience, which should be God's voice, risks reducing itself to being a mirror of the I, so that the inner conversation becomes a monologue, giving rise to thousands of self-justifications," said the pope.

It is for this reason, he said, that "without prayer there is no hope, but only illusion."

Without God, all hopes become "illusions that lead one to escape reality," he said.

The more one's hope is rooted in Christ, the greater the individual's ability to suffer and sacrifice "for the love of truth and the good," he said.

The prayers offered at the Mass included a special intention for God to "open the heart and eyes of all searchers of the truth so that they see and recognize he whom (God) sent to illuminate the darkness of the world, Jesus Christ."

END


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