Pope Francis urged Catholics Wednesday to use the season of Lent to spend less time immersed in the chatter and noise of the world through television and their phones, and to spend more time in silence and in conversation with God.
“Lent is the right time to make room for the Word of God. It is the time to turn off the television and open the Bible. It is the time to disconnect from your cell phone and connect to the Gospel,” the pope said today.
This penitential period, he continued, is also the time to work on giving up gossip, rumors, and useless chatter, focusing instead on giving yourself to the Lord, who spent 40 days in the desert in fasting and prayer.
During Lent, Jesus is “calling us into the desert,” Francis explained. Jesus “invites us to listen to what matters. To the devil who tempted him, he replied: ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
“Like bread, more than bread we need the Word of God, we need to speak with God: we need to pray,” he urged.
In his weekly general audience, which fell on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis reflected on the “desert” of Lent and how countercultural it is to spend time in silence, away from the noisiness of modern life.
“We live in an environment polluted by too much verbal violence, by many offensive and harmful words, which the internet amplifies,” he explained.
“We are inundated with empty words, with advertisements, with subtle messages. We have become used to hearing everything about everyone and we risk slipping into a worldliness that atrophies our hearts.”
In this noise, “we struggle to distinguish the voice of the Lord who speaks to us, the voice of conscience, of good,” the pope said.
According to Francis, the ‘desert’ of Lent, where we can be in conversation with the Lord, becomes a life-giving place.
He acknowledged that it is not easy to make space for silence in one’s heart, but invited everyone to imagine themselves in the desert, surrounded by a great silence, with “no noises, apart from the wind and our breath.”
“It is the absence of words to make room for another Word, the Word of God,” he said.
Pointing again to the image of the desert, Pope Francis said it recalls what is essential, and how often in life people become surrounded by many useless things.
“We chase a thousand things that seem necessary and in reality are not. How good it would be for us to get rid of so many superfluous realities, to rediscover what matters, to find the faces of those around us!” he urged.
“Prayer, fasting, works of mercy: here is the road into the Lenten desert.”
The solitude of the desert also reminds us of the people around us who are lonely and abandoned, he said, saying the “path in the Lenten desert is a path of charity towards the weaker.”
He also said fasting is a way of seeking a simpler life by giving up superfluous, vain things. But, he warned, it is not about “slimming down.”
“In the desert one finds intimacy with God, the love of the Lord,” he stated. “The road that leads us from death to life opens up in the desert. We enter the desert with Jesus, we will go out savoring Easter…”