View Articles

Monday, February 8, 2016

0451: Reflections on Ash Wednesday
by Pope Francis



Entry 0451: Reflections on Ash Wednesday  

by Pope Francis (Updated) 




On
 three occasions during his pontificate, Pope Francis has delivered reflections on Ash Wednesday, on 5 March 2014, 18 February 2015, and 10 February 2016. Here are the texts of the three homilies delivered on these occasions.


ASH WEDNESDAY
HOLY MASS WITH BLESSING AND IMPOSITION OF THE ASHES

HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS

Basilica of Santa Sabina, Wednesday, 5 March 2014

“Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13).

With these penetrating words of the Prophet Joel, the liturgy today introduces us into Lent, pointing to conversion of heart as the chief characteristic of this season of grace. The prophetic appeal challenges all of us without exception, and it reminds us that conversion is not to be reduced to outward forms or to vague intentions, but engages and transforms one’s entire existence beginning from the centre of the person, from the conscience. We are invited to embark upon a journey on which, by defying routine, we strive to open our eyes and ears, but especially to open our hearts, in order to go beyond our own “backyard.”

Opening oneself to God and to the brethren. We know that this increasingly artificial world would have us live in a culture of “doing,” of the “useful,” where we exclude God from our horizon without realizing it. But we also exclude the horizon itself! Lent beacons us to “rouse ourselves,” to remind ourselves that we are creatures, simply put, that we are not God. In the little daily scene, as I look at some of the power struggles to occupy spaces, I think: these people are playing God the Creator. They still have not realized that they are not God.

And we also risk closing ourselves off to others and forgetting them. But only when the difficulties and suffering of others confront and question us may we begin our journey of conversion towards Easter. It is an itinerary which involves the Cross and self-denial. Today’s Gospel indicates the elements of this spiritual journey: prayer, fasting and almsgiving (see Mt 6:1-6; 16-18). All three exclude the need for appearances: what counts is not appearances; the value of life does not depend on the approval of others or on success, but on what we have inside us.

The first element is prayer. Prayer is the strength of the Christian and of every person who believes. In the weakness and frailty of our lives, we can turn to God with the confidence of children and enter into communion with him. In the face of so many wounds that hurt us and could harden our hearts, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of God’s boundless love, to taste his tenderness. Lent is a time of prayer, of more intense prayer, more prolonged, more assiduous, more able to take on the needs of the brethren; intercessory prayer, to intercede before God for the many situations of poverty and suffering.

The second key element of the Lenten journey is fasting. We must be careful not to practice a formal fast, or one which in truth “satisfies” us because it makes us feel good about ourselves. Fasting makes sense if it questions our security, and if it also leads to some benefit for others, if it helps us to cultivate the style of the Good Samaritan, who bends down to his brother in need and takes care of him. Fasting involves choosing a sober lifestyle; a way of life that does not waste, a way of life that does not “throw away.” Fasting helps us to attune our hearts to the essential and to sharing. It is a sign of awareness and responsibility in the face of injustice, abuse, especially to the poor and the little ones, and it is a sign of the trust we place in God and in his providence.

The third element is almsgiving: it points to giving freely, for in almsgiving one gives something to someone from whom one does not expect to receive anything in return. Gratuitousness should be one of the characteristics of the Christian, who aware of having received everything from God gratuitously, that is, without any merit of his own, learns to give to others freely. Today gratuitousness is often not part of daily life where everything is bought and sold. Everything is calculated and measured. Almsgiving helps us to experience giving freely, which leads to freedom from the obsession of possessing, from the fear of losing what we have, from the sadness of one who does not wish to share his wealth with others.

With its invitations to conversion, Lent comes providentially to awaken us, to rouse us from torpor, from the risk of moving forward by inertia. The exhortation which the Lord addresses to us through the prophet Joel is strong and clear: “Return to me with all your heart” (Jl 2:12). Why must we return to God? Because something is not right in us, not right in society, in the Church and we need to change, to give it a new direction. And this is called needing to convert! Once again Lent comes to make its prophetic appeal, to remind us that it is possible to create something new within ourselves and around us, simply because God is faithful, always faithful, for he cannot deny himself, he continues to be rich in goodness and mercy, and he is always ready to forgive and start afresh. With this filial confidence, let us set out on the journey!


ASH WEDNESDAY
HOLY MASS WITH BLESSING AND IMPOSITION OF THE ASHES

HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS

Basilica of Santa Sabina, Wednesday, 18 February 2015

As the People of God begin the journey of Lent, the time in which we seek to be more firmly united to the Lord, to share the mystery of His Passion and His Resurrection.

Today’s liturgy offers us first and foremost a passage from the Prophet Joel, whom God sent to call the People of God to repentance and conversion, due to a natural disaster (a plague of locusts) which was devastating Judea. The Lord alone can save us from the scourge and it is therefore necessary to entreat Him with prayer and fasting, confessing one’s sins.

The Prophet emphasizes interior conversion: “return to me with all your heart” (2:12).

Returning to the Lord “with all your heart” means to begin the journey not of a superficial and transitory conversion, but rather of a spiritual itinerary with regard to the most intimate place of our person. The heart is, indeed, the seat of our feelings, the centre in which our decisions, our attitudes mature. That “return to me with all your heart” involves not only individuals, but is extended to the community as a whole. It is a convocation directed to everyone: “gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber” (v. 16). The Prophet pauses particularly on the prayer of the priests, pointing out that it is to be accompanied by tears. It will do us good, all of us, but especially for us as priests, at the beginning of Lent, to ask for the gift of tears, so as to render our prayer and our journey of conversion ever more authentic and free from hypocrisy. It will do us good to ask ourselves this question: “Do I weep? Does the Pope weep? Do the cardinals weep? Do bishops weep? Do the consecrated weep? Do priests weep? Is there weeping in our prayers?” And this is precisely the message of today’s Gospel. In the passage from Matthew, Jesus again reads the three works of mercy called for by Mosaic law: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. He distinguishes the external disposition from the interior disposition, from the weeping of the heart. Over time, these prescriptions were corroded by external formalism, or they even mutated into a sign of social superiority. Jesus highlighted a common temptation in these three works, that can be summarized precisely as hypocrisy (He mentions it three times): “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them. When you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do. And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray, that they may be seen by men. And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites” (Mt 6:1, 2, 5, 16). You know, brothers, that hypocrites do not know how to weep, they have forgotten how to weep, they do not ask for the gift of tears.

When one performs a good work, the desire arises almost instinctively in us to be esteemed and admired for this good action, to gain satisfaction from it. Jesus calls us to perform these gestures without ostentation, and to rely solely on the reward of the Father “who sees in secret” (Mt 6:4, 6, 18).

Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord never tires of having mercy on us, and wants to offer us His forgiveness once again—we all need it—inviting us to return to Him with a new heart, purified of evil, purified by tears, to take part in His joy. How should we accept this invitation? St Paul advises us: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). This power of conversion is not only the work of mankind, it is letting oneself be reconciled. Reconciliation between us and God is possible thanks to the mercy of the Father who, out of love for us, did not hesitate to sacrifice His only begotten Son. Indeed Christ, who was just and without sin, was made to be sin (see v. 21) when, on the Cross, He took on the burden of our sins, and in this way He redeemed and justified us before God. “In Him” we can become just, in Him we can change, if we accept the grace of God and do not allow this “acceptable time” to pass in vain (6:2). Please, let us stop, let us stop a while and let ourselves be reconciled to God.

With this awareness, we begin the Lenten journey with trust and joy. May Immaculate Mother Mary, without sin, sustain our spiritual battle against sin, accompany us at this acceptable time, so that we may come together to sing of the exultant victory on Easter Day. And as a sign of the will to let ourselves be reconciled to God, in addition to the tears that will be “in secret,” in public we will perform this gesture of the imposition of Ashes on the head. The celebrant speaks these words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (see Gen 3:19); or repeats the exhortation of Jesus: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (see Mk 1:15). Both formulae are a reference to the truth of human existence: we are limited creatures, always sinners in need of repentance and conversion. How important it is to listen to and accept this call in this time of ours! The call to conversion is thus an incentive to return, as the son in the parable did, to the arms of God, gentle and merciful Father, to weep in that embrace, to trust in Him and entrust ourselves to Him.



ASH WEDNESDAY
HOLY MASS WITH BLESSING AND IMPOSITION OF THE ASHES

HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS

Vatican Basilica, Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The Word of God, at the start of the Lenten journey, addresses two invitations to the Church and to each of us.

The first is that of St Paul: “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). It is not simply good fatherly advice, neither is it just a suggestion; it is a bona fide supplication on Christ’s behalf: “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (ibid.). Why does he make such a solemn and earnest appeal? Because Christ knows how fragile and sinful we are, he knows the weakness of our heart. He immediately sees it wounded by the evil we have committed. He knows how much we need forgiveness, he knows that it is important for us to feel loved in order to do good. We cannot do it alone: this is why the Apostle does not tell us to do something but to allow ourselves to be reconciled with God, to let him forgive us, with trust, because “God is greater than our hearts” (1 Jn 3:20). He conquers sin and lifts us out of misery, if we let him. It is up to us to acknowledge that we need mercy. This is the first step on the Christian path; it entails entering through the open door which is Christ, where he, the Savior, awaits us and offers us a new and joyful life.

There may be a few obstacles, which close the door of the heart. There is the temptation to lock the doors, or to live with our sin, minimizing it, always justifying it, thinking we are no worse than others; this, however, is how the locks of the soul are closed and we remain shut inside, prisoners of evil. Another obstacle is the shame of opening the secret door of the heart. Shame, in reality, is a good symptom, because it shows that we want to break away from evil; however, it must never be transformed into apprehension or fear. There is a third pitfall, that of distancing ourselves from the door: it happens when we hide in our misery, when we ruminate constantly, connecting it to negative things, until sinking into the darkest repositories of the soul. Then we even become kindred with the sorrow that we do not want, we become discouraged and we are weaker in the face of temptations. This happens because we bide alone with ourselves, closing ourselves off and avoiding the light; while the Lord’s grace alone frees us. Therefore let us be reconciled, let us listen to Jesus who says to those who are weary and oppressed: “Come to me” (Mt 11:28). Not to dwell within themselves, but to go to him! Comfort and peace are there.

At this celebration the Missionaries of Mercy are present, to receive the mandate to be signs and instruments of God’s forgiveness. Dear brothers, may you help to open the doors of hearts, to overcome shame, not to avoid the light. May your hands bless and lift up brothers and sisters with paternity; through you may the gaze and the hands of God rest on his children and heal them of their wounds!

There is a second invitation of God, who says, through the prophet Joel: “return to me with all your heart” (2:12). If we need to return it is because we have distanced ourselves. It is the mystery of sin: we have distanced ourselves from God, from others, from ourselves. It is not difficult to realize this: we all see how we struggle to truly trust in God, to entrust ourselves to him as Father, without fear; as it is challenging to love others, rather than thinking badly of them; how it costs us to do our true good, while we are attracted and seduced by so many material realities, which disappear and in the end leave us impoverished. Alongside this history of sin, Jesus inaugurated a history of salvation. The Gospel which opens Lent calls us to be protagonists, embracing three remedies, three medicines which heal us from sin (see Mt 6:1-6, 16-18).

In the first place is prayer, an expression of openness and trust in the Lord: it is the personal encounter with him, which shortens the distances created by sin. Praying means saying: “I am not self-sufficient, I need You, You are my life and my salvation.” In the second place is charity, in order to overcome our lack of involvement with regard to others. True love, in fact, is not an outward act, it is not giving something in a paternalistic way in order to assuage the conscience, but to accept those who are in need of our time, our friendship, our help. It means living to serve, overcoming the temptation to satisfy ourselves. In the third place is fasting, penance, in order to free ourselves from dependencies regarding what is passing, and to train ourselves to be more sensitive and merciful. It is an invitation to simplicity and to sharing: to take something from our table and from our assets in order to once again find the true benefit of freedom.

“Return to me”—says the Lord—“return with all your heart:” not only with a few outward deeds, but from the depths of our selves. Indeed, Jesus calls us to live prayer, charity and penance with consistency and authenticity, overcoming hypocrisy. May Lent be a beneficial time to “prune” falseness, worldliness, indifference: so as not to think that everything is fine if I am fine; so as to understand that what counts is not approval, the search for success or consensus, but the cleansing of the heart and of life; so as to find again our Christian identity, namely, the love that serves, not the selfishness that serves us. Let us embark on the journey together, as Church, by receiving Ashes—we too will become ashes—and keeping our gaze fixed on the Crucifix. He, loving us, invites us to be reconciled with God and to return to him, in order to find ourselves again. 



© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana



* * * * *


For reflections on Ash Wednesday 

 by Pope Benedict XVI,
please scroll down to the bottom of this page.


* * * * *