The 40 days of Lent are a time to recognize that evil is at work in the world and even the Catholic Church faces temptations, Pope Benedict said.
The pope explained the meaning of Lent during his weekly general audience Feb. 22, Ash Wednesday.
Like the people of Israel during their 40-year exodus and like Jesus during his 40 days in the desert, the Catholic Church and its members experience the grace of God.
But they also are besieged by evil around them and are tempted by power and selfishness, the pope said.
Jesus, before beginning his public ministry, withdrew to the desert for 40 days.
Fasting, "he nourished himself on the word of God, which he used as a weapon to defeat the devil," the pope said.
Spending 40 days in the desert before beginning his public ministry, Jesus experienced the closeness of God, but also faced the devil's temptations of "power, success and dominion," the pope said.