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Francis: Lent invites us to return to the truth of who we are

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Francis: Lent invites us to return to the truth of who we are

On this Wednesday, February 14, as tradition dictates, the Sovereign Pontiff presided over the Ashes Mass which marks the beginning of Lent for the Catholic faithful around the world. In the Basilica of Santa Sabina in Rome, Francis, in his homily, returned to the meaning of “Lent which immerses us in a bath of purification and despoliation”. This time of conversion “wants to help us remove all “make-up”, to appear adequate,” maintained the Pope.

Myriam Sandouno – Vatican City

After a penitential procession beginning in the basilica of Saint-Anselme-sur-l’Aventine, the Holy Father presided over the Eucharistic celebration with the blessing and the rite of imposition of ashes on the forehead of each faithful, symbol of penance, of conversion and rebirth. In the grounds of the Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill, the Pope recalled in his homily that “the ashes placed on our heads invite us to rediscover the secret of life”.

The fire of God’s love in the ashes

This ancient penitential practice which dates back to the Bible, allows us to realize and rediscover the love of God, “an eternal love”. “We are ashes on which God has breathed his breath of life, an earth that He has modeled with his hands”, but also “dust from which we will rise for an endless life, always prepared for us”, a declared the Bishop of Rome. And if, in “the ashes that we are, the fire of God’s love burns”, then, for Francis, “we discover that from this love we are molded”, called to love and be attentive to others, “our brothers”. Compassion, mercy, also reflect this love, which invites us to “share what we are and what we have with those who are in need”.

The imposition of ashes

It is a gesture “which wants to bring us back to our essential reality: we are dust, our life is like breath (cf. Ps 39, 6; 144, 4)”, but the Lord – He and He alone – allows that ‘she doesn’t disappear. He collects and shapes “the dust that we are,” Peter’s successor recalled, so that it is not scattered by the rushing winds of life and so that it does not dissolve in the abyss of death. “This is why, this evening, in a spirit of prayer and humility,” he declared, “we receive ashes on our heads.”

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A journey from the outside to the inside

At the start of Lent, a time of conversion, penance, and preparation for the feast of Easter, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ, the Pope invited us to “listen to the voice of the Lord, who never tires of repeating to us: enter into the secret, return to the heart. It is a “journey from the outside to the inside”, so that the experience, and “even our relationship with God”, he explained, “is not reduced to an exteriority, to a frame without an image, a covering for the soul.

Pope Francis’ message for Lent 2024 invites reflection, solidarity and freedom. Drawing on the Book of Exodus, the Sovereign Pontiff presents Lent…

Enter the secret

In a world where we live in a “superficial way”, where we want to be noticed, admired or appreciated, “the Lord tells us: enter into the secret, enter into the center of yourself”. It is precisely there – where so many fears, feelings of guilt and sins also reside – that “the Lord has come down to heal you and purify you”. “Let us enter our inner room,” he insisted, “this is where the Lord dwells, where our fragility is welcomed and where we are loved unconditionally.” Often referring to the Holy Scriptures during this Eucharistic celebration, the Bishop of Rome did not fail to recall: “When you give alms, when you pray, when you fast, make sure that this is done in secret. : for your Father sees in secret (cf. Mt 6:4).” Entering the secret: “this is the invitation that Jesus addresses to each of us at the beginning of the Lenten journey”, underlined the Holy Father.

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Get rid of masks

The period of Lent “immerses us in a bath of purification and dispossession, and wants to help us remove all “make-up”, everything with which we put on to appear adequate”. This journey allows us to strip ourselves, to return to the “real me”, by getting rid of the masks that we often wear”, by slowing down “the course of our frenzies, by embracing our own truth”. “Life is not a play,” Francis affirmed, then added that Lent invites us to come down from a fictitious stage to return to the heart, to the truth of what we are.”

Silent smell, an opportunity to return to God

Francis, in his homily, also placed emphasis on the prayer of silent adoration, to be favored during this time of Lent. Because it allows us to remain attentive to the presence of the Lord, like Moses, Elijah, Mary, or like Jesus. Into this silence, the God of mercy and compassion, the God of forgiveness and love, the God of tenderness and concern, wants to lead everyone. “Don’t judge yourself. Don’t condemn yourself. Do not refuse yourself”, this is what “your God wants to say to you, ready to dry your tears”; he also wants to “declare to you his flame of infinite love and whisper in your ear: ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’” (H. Nouwen, In cammino verso l’alba, Brescia 1997, 233).

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