On Ash Wednesday, Francis recalls “our journey then is about letting him take us by the hand. The Father who bids us come home is the same who left home to come looking for us; the Lord who heals us is the same who let himself suffer on the cross; the Spirit who enables us to change our lives is the same who breathes softly yet powerfully on our dust.”
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Lent is "a journey back to God", an "exodus from slavery to freedom", a "letting ourselves be reconciled with God", "it is not a collection of little sacrifices", but proceeding on the path towards God having Jesus as our guide to Him, recognizing that we need mercy.
At the beginning of Lent, Pope Francis recalled that "we are dust and to dust we will return. Yet upon this dust of ours, God blew his Spirit of life. So we should no longer live our lives chasing dust, chasing things that are here today and gone tomorrow”.
This Ash Wednesday the liturgical rite was celebrated at the altar of the Chair of St. Peter's Basilica and not, as a tradition, in St. Sabina on the Aventine hill.
Francis, on whom the Ashes were imposed by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, Archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, admonished in his homily: " How many times, in our activity or indifference, have we told him: “Lord, I will come to you later... I can’t come today, but tomorrow I will begin to pray and do something for others”. God now appeals to our hearts. In this life, we will always have things to do and excuses to offer, but now is the time to return to God. Return to me, he says, with all your heart. Lent is a journey that involves our whole life, our entire being. It is a time to reconsider the path we are taking, to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends. Lent is not just not about the little sacrifices we make, but about discerning where our hearts are directed. Let us ask: Where is my life’s navigation system taking me – towards God or towards myself? Do I live to please the Lord, or to be noticed, praised and promoted? Do I have a “wobbly” heart, which takes a step forwards and then one backwards? Do I love the Lord a bit and the world a bit, or is my heart steadfast in God? Am I content with my hypocrisies, or do I work to free my heart from the duplicity and falsehood that tie it down? The journey of Lent is an exodus from slavery to freedom.? ".
It is a difficult journey, as it was, for the Jews, to leave the "leeks" of Egypt, the "seductive snares of vices, from the false security of money and appearances". To walk one must unmask these illusions. Realize that we are “children who fall all the time, we are like little children who try to walk but go to the ground, and they need to be lifted up every time by their father. It is the Father’s forgiveness that always set us back on our feet. God’s forgiveness – Confession – is the first step on our return journey”. And in unscripted remarks, Francis again recommend confessors to be generous: "not with the whip, but with an embrace."
But, the Pope recalled, “our return journey to God is possible only because there was his outward journey towards us. Before we went to him, he came down to us. He preceded us, he came to meet us. For us he went lower than we could imagine: he made himself sin, he made himself death”.
“Our journey then is about letting him take us by the hand. The Father who bids us come home is the same who left home to come looking for us; the Lord who heals us is the same who let himself suffer on the cross; the Spirit who enables us to change our lives is the same who breathes softly yet powerfully on our dust. This, then, is the Apostle’s plea: “Be reconciled to God” (v. 20). Be reconciled: the journey is not based on our own strength. Heartfelt conversion, with the deeds and practices that express it, is possible only if it begins with the primacy of God’s work. What enables us to return to him is not our own ability or merit, but his offer of grace. Jesus says this clearly in the Gospel: what makes us just is not the righteousness we show before others, but our sincere relationship with the Father. The beginning of the return to God is the recognition of our need for him and his mercy. This is the right path, the path of humility."
“Today we bow our heads to receive ashes. At the end of Lent, we will bow even lower to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters. Lent is a humble descent both inwards and towards others. It is about realizing that salvation is not an ascent to glory, but a descent in love. It is about becoming little. Lest we go astray on our journey, let us stand before the cross of Jesus: the silent throne of God. Let us daily contemplate his wounds. In those wounds, we recognize our emptiness, our shortcomings, the wounds of our sin and all the hurt we have experienced. Yet there too, we see clearly that God points his finger at no one, but rather opens his arms to embrace us. His wounds were inflicted for our sake, and by those wounds we have been healed (cf. 1 Pet 2:25; Is 53:5). By kissing those wounds, we will come to realize that there, in life’s most painful wounds, God awaits us with his infinite mercy. Because there, where we are most vulnerable, where we feel the most shame, he came to meet us. And now he invites us to return to him, to rediscover the joy of being loved.”.