At 5:00 pm local time today, Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass in the Vatican Basilica with the Rite of Blessing, the Imposition of Ashes and the Sending of Missionaries of Mercy on the occasion of the Jubilee.
Concelebrating were Cardinals, Bishops and more than 700 Missionaries who, at the end of the Mass, received from the Holy Father the “mandate” together with the faculty to absolve even sins reserved to the Apostolic See. There are more than 1,000 Missionaries in the whole world, privileged witnesses in their individual Churches of the extraordinariness of the Jubilee event.
Here is a ZENIT translation of the text of the Pope’s homily:
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At the beginning of the Lenten journey, the Word of God addresses to the Church and to each one of us two invitations.
The first is that of Saint Paul: “Be reconciled with God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). It is not simply good paternal advice and even less only a suggestion; it is a true and proper supplication in the name of Christ: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (Ibid.). Why such a solemn and heartbroken appeal? Because Christ knows how fragile and sinful we are, He knows the weakness of our heart; He sees it wounded by the evil we have committed and right away, He knows how much we need forgiveness, He knows that we must feel loved to do good. Alone we are not capable: therefore, the Apostle does not tell us to do something, but to allow ourselves to be reconciled by God, to permit Him to forgive us, with trust, because “God is greater than our hearts (1 John 3:20). He defeats sin and lifts us from our miseries, if we entrust ourselves to Him. It is for us to acknowledge ourselves in need of mercy: it is the first step of the Christian journey; it is about entering through the open door that is Christ, where He Himself, the Savior, awaits us and offers us a new and joyful life.
There can be some obstacles, which close the doors of the heart. There is the temptation of armouring the doors, namely, of living with one’s sin, minimizing it, always justifying oneself, thinking one is no worse than others; thus, however, the locks of the heart are closed and one remains closed inside, prisoners of evil. Another obstacle is the shame to open the secret door of the heart. In reality, shame is a good symptom, because it indicates that we want to detach ourselves from evil; however, it must never be transformed into dread or fear. And there is a third snare: that of distancing ourselves from the door: it happens when we remain in our miseries, when we brood continually, linking negative things among themselves, until we sink into the darkest cellars of the soul. Then we even become familiar with the sadness we do not want, we are discouraged and we are weaker in face of temptations. This happens because we remain alone with ourselves, closing ourselves and fleeing from the light, whereas only the Lord’s grace frees us. Let us then be reconciled, let us listen to Jesus who says to those who are tired and oppressed “Come to me” (Matthew 11:28). Do not remain in yourselves but go to Him! There is restoration and peace.
Present in this celebration are Missionaries of Mercy, to receive the mandate to be signs and instruments of God’s forgiveness. Dear brothers, you can help to open the doors of hearts, to overcome shame, not to flee from the light. May your hands bless and lift brothers and sisters with paternity, so that through you the gaze and hands of the Father rest on His children and cures their wounds!
There is a second invitation of God, which says, through the prophet Joel: “Return to me with all your heart” (2:12). If there is need to return it is because we have distanced ourselves. It is the mystery of sin: we are distanced from God, from others and from ourselves. It is not difficult to realize it: we all see what an effort it is to really trust in God, to entrust ourselves to Him as Father, without fear; how arduous it is to love others, sooner than thinking evil of others; how hard it is to do our true good, while we are attracted and seduced by so many material realities, which vanish and in the end leave us poor. Beside this history of sin, Jesus has inaugurated a history of salvation. The Gospel that opens Lent invites us to be protagonists, embracing three remedies, three medicines that heal sin (Cf. Matthew 6:1-6.16-18).
In the first place prayer, expression of openness and trust in the Lord: it is the personal encounter with Him, which shortens the distances created by sin. To pray means to say: “I’m not self-sufficient, I need You, You are my life and my salvation.”
In the second place is charity, to overcome extraneousness in dealing with others. True love, in fact, is not an external act; it isn’t to give something in a paternalistic way to quiet our conscience, but to accept one who is in need of our time, of our friendship, of our help. It is to live service, overcoming the temptation to satisfy ourselves.
In the third place is fasting, penance, to liberate us from dependencies in facing what is happening and to train us to be more sensitive and merciful. It is an invitation to simplicity and to sharing: to take something from our table and from our goods to rediscover the true good of freedom.
“Return to me – says the Lord – with all your heart”: not only with some external act but from the depth of our being. In fact, Jesus calls us to live prayer, charity and penance with coherence and authenticity, overcoming hypocrisy. May Lent be a time of beneficent “pruning” of falsehood, of worldliness, of indifference: not to think that everything is well if I am well; to understand that what counts is not approval, the search for success or consensus, but the cleansing of the heart and of life, to rediscover our Christian identity, namely, the love that serves, not egoism that serves itself. Let us begin the journey together, as Church, receiving the Ashes and keeping our gaze fixed on the Crucifix. Loving us, He invites us to allow ourselves to be reconciled with God and to return to Him, to rediscover ourselves.
[Original text: Italian]
[Translation by ZENIT]