03/05/2014, 00.00
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Pope: in Lent, we "return to God" because "something is not right in us, in society, in the Church"

Francis celebrates the liturgy for Ash Wednesday. Conversion "must not be reduced to outward forms or vague intentions, but engage and transform our entire existence”. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving "mean not allowing ourselves to be dominated by appearances: appearances don’t matter".

Rome ( AsiaNews) - Lent "comes providentially to awaken us, to shake us from our torpor,  from the risk of moving onwards out of inertia".  It calls for a "return to God", "because something is wrong in us, in society, in the Church and we need to change, to turn things around, to be converted". Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday indicating the meaning of the conversion we are called to during Lent, and stressing the importance of prayer, fasting and almsgiving "inherently mean not allowing ourselves to be dominated by appearances: appearances don't matter".

Following a set tradition, Pope Francis travelled first to the church of St. Anselm on the Aventine, for a moment of prayer.  This was followed by a penitential procession to the basilica of Santa Sabina, where he celebrated Mass with the imposition of ashes.

The Pope's homily was dedicated to the conversion, which "can not be reduced to outward forms or vague intentions, but must engage and transforms the entire existence of the person from their very center, from their conscience. We are invited to embark on a journey in which, challenge the routine, during which we strive to open our eyes and ears, but especially our heart, to go beyond 'our own backyard'".

"Opening up to God and to others. We live in an increasingly artificial world, in a culture of 'doing' of what is useful', where without realizing that we exclude God from our horizon. Lent calls us to 'rouse ourselves', to remind ourselves that we are creatures, that we are not God,.  We also risk of closing ourselves off from others, of forgetting them.  But only when the difficulties and sufferings of our brothers challenge us, only then we can start our journey of conversion towards Easter. It is an itinerary that includes the Cross and sacrifice. Today's Gospel indicates the elements of this spiritual journey: prayer, fasting and almsgiving (cf. Mt 6,1-6.16-18 .) All three involve the need not allowing ourselves to be dominated by appearances: appearances don't matter; our life's value does not depend on the approval of others or success, but on what we have inside".

"The first element is prayer. Prayer is the strength of the Christian and of every individual believer. In life's weakness and the fragility, we can turn to God with the confidence of children and enter into communion with Him, In front of so many wounds that hurt us and that could harden our heart, we are called to dive into the sea of prayer, which is the sea of the boundless love of God, to enjoy its tenderness. Lent is a time of prayer, a more intense, more diligent prayer, more capable of taking on the needs of our brethren, to intercede before God for the many situations of poverty and suffering".

"The second element of the Lenten journey is fasting. We must be careful not to practice a formal fasting, or that indeed one that 'fills us' because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Fasting makes sense if it really affects our security, and also if it is of benefit to others, if it helps us to grow in the spirit of the Good Samaritan, who bends over his brother in need and takes care of him. Fasting involves choosing a sober life, that does not waste, which is not 'discard' things. Fasting helps us to train the heart to adhere to what is essential and sharing. It is a sign of awareness and responsibility in the face of injustices, abuses, especially towards the poor and the little ones, and is a sign of our trust in God and His providence".

"The third element is almsgiving: this indicates gratuity because in giving alms, we give to someone from whom we expect nothing in return. Gratuity should be one of the characteristics of a Christian, who, aware of having received everything gratuitously from God - that is without any merit - learns to gratuitously give to others. Nowadays, gratuity is not often part of everyday life, where everything is bought and sold. Everything is calculated and measured. Almsgiving helps us to live the gratuitousness of the gift, which is freedom from an obsession with possession, from fear of losing what one has, from the sadness of those who do not want to share their own well-being with others".

"With its calls to conversion, Lent comes to providentially awaken us, to shake us from our torpor, from the risk of moving onwards out of inertia. The exhortation that the Lord speaks to us through the prophet Joel is loud and clear: "Return to me with all your heart"(Joel 2:12). Why must we return to God? Because something is wrong in us, in society, in the Church and we need to change, to turn things around, to repent! Lent once again comes with its prophetic call to remind us that it is possible to create something new within ourselves and around us, simply because God is faithful, He continues to be full of goodness and mercy, and is always ready to forgive and begin again. With this filial trust, let us set out on this journey!".


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