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Pope's Ash Wednesday Homily: 'Return to the Lord With All Your Heart'

Says Lent Calls Us to Be Free, Not Slaves, and to Reflect Where We Would Be If God Had Closed His Door to Us

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“Return to me with all your heart… return to the Lord”
Pope Francis repeated this advice during tonight’s Mass at Rome’s Basilica of Saint Sabina, as he recalled how the prophet Joel makes this plea to the people in the Lord’s name.
This afternoon –Ash Wednesday, the day marking the beginning of Lent – an assembly of prayer took place in the form of the Roman “Stations,” presided over by Pope Francis. At 4:30 pm, in the church of Saint Anselm all”Aventino, a moment of prayer was held followed by a penitential procession to the Basilica of Saint Sabina.
Taking part in the procession were cardinals, archbishops, bishops, Benedictine monks of Saint Anselm, Dominican fathers of Saint Sabina and some faithful. At the end of the procession, Pope Francis presided over the celebration of the Eucharist in the Basilica of Saint Sabina, with the rite of the blessing and imposition of ashes.
In his homily, during the Mass at St. Sabina, the Pope noted that we, today, are to take up this appeal, to return to the merciful heart of the Father.
«In this season of grace that begins today, we once again turn our eyes to his mercy,» the Pope noted, adding, «Lent is a path: it leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children.»
No Longer to Be Slaves, But Free
«Lent,» Francis noted, «is the road leading from slavery to freedom, from suffering to joy, from death to life.»
The mark of the ashes with which we set out, the Pontiff highlighted, reminds us of our origin, namely that we were taken from the earth, we are made of dust. However, he stressed, we are dust in the loving hands of God, Who has breathed His spirit of life upon each one of us, and still wants to do so.
He wants to keep giving us that breath of life that saves us from every other type of breath: the stifling asphyxia brought on by our selfishness, the stifling asphyxia generated by petty ambition and silent indifference – an asphyxia that smothers the spirit, narrows our horizons and slows the beating of our hearts. The breath of God’s life saves us from this asphyxia that dampens our faith, cools our charity and strangles every hope.
To experience Lent, the Pope said, is to yearn for this breath of life that our Father unceasingly offers us amid the mire of our history.
«The breath of God’s life sets us free from the asphyxia that so often we fail to notice, or become so used to that it seems normal, even when its effects are felt. We think it is normal because we have grown so accustomed to breathing air in which hope has dissipated, the air of glumness and resignation, the stifling air of panic and hostility.»
Time to Say No
Lent, the Holy Father also reminded, is the time for saying no.
«No to the spiritual asphyxia born of the pollution caused by indifference, by thinking that other people’s lives are not my concern, and by every attempt to trivialize life, especially the lives of those whose flesh is burdened by so much superficiality. Lent means saying no to the toxic pollution of empty and meaningless words, of harsh and hasty criticism, of simplistic analyses that fail to grasp the complexity of problems, especially the problems of those who suffer the most.
«Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good. Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia born of relationships that exclude, that try to find God while avoiding the wounds of Christ present in the wounds of his brothers and sisters: in a word, all those forms of spirituality that reduce the faith to a ghetto culture, a culture of exclusion.»
Time to Remember
Lent, he added, is a time for remembering, and asking ourselves what we would be if God had closed his doors to us.
«What would we be without his mercy that never tires of forgiving us and always gives us the chance to begin anew? Lent is the time to ask ourselves where we would be without the help of so many people who in a thousand quiet ways have stretched out their hands and in very concrete ways given us hope and enabled us to make a new beginning?»
Lent, the Pope noted, is the time to start breathing again, to open our hearts to the breath of the One capable of turning our dust into humanity.
«It is a time to set aside everything that isolates us, encloses us and paralyzes us.»
Pope Francis concluded, noting,»Lent is a time of compassion, when, with the Psalmist, we can say: “Restore to us the joy of your salvation, sustain in us a willing spirit”, so that by our lives we may declare your praise (cf. Ps 51:12.15), and our dust – by the power of your breath of life – may become a “dust of love.”
On ZENIT’s Web page:
Full Text: https://zenit.org/articles/popes-homily-at-ash-wednesday-mass-at-basilica-of-st-sabina-allaventino/

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Deborah Castellano Lubov

Deborah Castellano Lubov is Senior Vatican & Rome Correspondent for ZENIT; author of 'The Other Francis' ('L'Altro Francesco') featuring interviews with those closest to the Pope and preface by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Parolin (currently published in 5 languages); Deborah is also NBC & MSNBC Vatican Analyst. She often covers the Pope's travels abroad, often from the Papal Flight (including for historic trips such as to Abu Dhabi and Japan & Thailand), and has also asked him questions on the return-flight press conference on behalf of the English-speaking press present. Lubov has done much TV & radio commentary, including for NBC, Sky, EWTN, BBC, Vatican Radio, AP, Reuters and more. She also has contributed to various books on the Pope and has written for various Catholic publications. For 'The Other Francis': http://www.gracewing.co.uk/page219.html or https://www.amazon.com/Other-Francis-Everything-They-about/dp/0852449348/

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