Lent is a call to “shake ourselves up”, an invitation to conversion, and a reminder that it is possible to begin anew, Pope Francis said in his first Ash Wednesday homily yesterday.
Addressing cardinals, bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful in the basilica of Santa Sabina, the Holy Father stressed that conversion of the heart is the main characteristic of Lent.
By challenging our routine, Lent calls on us to “open our hearts, to go beyond simply tending our own gardens,” he said. “We know that this increasingly artificial world makes us live in a culture of ‘doing’ of the ‘useful’, where without realising we exclude God from our horizons. But we exclude the horizon itself!”
Lent, he added, calls to us to “shake ourselves up”, to remember that we are creatures, and that simply we are not God. “When I watch, in my little daily environment, some battles to occupy space, I think: these people play at being God the Creator,” he said. “They still have not understood that they are not God”.
But he stressed that towards others, too, “we run the risk of closing ourselves up, of forgetting them.” Only when one is aware of the “difficulties and suffering of our brothers, only then can we undertake our path of conversion towards Easter,” he said.
The Pope said that to walk this spiritual path, three elements are necessary: prayer, fasting and charity. All three involve “the importance of not allowing oneself to be dominated by appearances: what counts is not appearance, but what we have inside”.
Prayer is “the strength of the Christian and of every believer,” he said. “In the weakness and the fragility of our life, we may turn to God with the trust of His sons and enter into communion with Him. And Lent is a time for prayer, “a more intense and prolonged prayer … more able to take on the needs of our brothers; prayer of intercession, to intercede before God for many situations of poverty and suffering”.
Fasting, he added, has meaning only if it “truly attacks our security” and brings benefits to others. It must help us to “cultivate the approach of the good Samaritan” and involves choosing “a sober style of life” without waste. “Fasting helps us to train our hearts in simplicity and sharing,” he said.
Giving to charity, the Pope continued, means “giving freely” – something that should be one of the characteristics of the Christian who, aware of having freely received undeservedly everything from God, learns to give freely to others. “Giving to charity helps us to live the free nature of the gift, which is freedom from the obsession of possession, of the fear of losing what we have,” the Pope said.
The Pope concluded: “With its invitation to conversion, Lent providentially reawakens us, shakes us from our torpor, from our risk of living by inertia.”
“Why must we return to God?,” he asked. “Because something is not quite right in us, and is not right in society or in the Church, and we need to change, to turn things around. This is what is meant by needing to convert! Once again, Lent makes its prophetic call to us, to remind us that it is possible to achieve something new within ourselves and around ourselves, simply because God is faithful … and continues to be rich in goodness and mercy, always ready to forgive and start again from the beginning”.
The Pope began the Mass by presiding over the traditional procession of penitence from the Church of St. Anselm on the Aventine hill to the basilica of Santa Sabina, on the same Roman hill.
Numerous cardinals, archbishops and bishops take part, along with the Benedictine monks of St. Anselm, the Dominican fathers of Santa Sabina, and the faithful.
After the procession, Pope Francis presided over the celebration of the Eucharist with the rite of blessing and the imposition of the ashes. The Pope received them from the hands of Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular of the basilica, and subsequently imposed them on the cardinals and various monks, religious and faithful.
On ZENIT’s webpage:Full text of homily