Lent is a time to reconsider the path one is taking in life and to finally answer God’s invitation to return to him with one’s whole heart, Pope Francis said.
“Lent is not just about the little sacrifices we make, but about discerning where our hearts are directed,” he said, “toward God or toward myself?”
The Pope’s remarks came in his homily at Mass for Ash Wednesday February 17, which included the blessing and distribution ashes, marking the beginning of Lent for Latin-rite Catholics.
In his homily, the Pope said one must bow to receive ashes sprinkled on the crown of the head, which reflects the “humble descent” one makes in reflecting on one’s life, sins and relationship with God.
“Lent is a journey of return to God”, especially when most people live each day ignoring or delaying their response to God’s invitation to pray and do something for others.
“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,” he said.
“The journey of Lent is an exodus from slavery to freedom,” he said, noting the easy temptations along that journey, including yearning for the past, or hindered by “unhealthy attachments, held back by the seductive snares of our sins, by the false security of money and appearances, by the paralysis of our discontents. To embark on this journey, we have to unmask these illusions”.
The way back to God, he said, starts with understanding, like the prodigal son, how “we have ended up with empty hands and an unhappy heart” after squandering God’s gifts “on paltry things, and then with seeking God’s forgiveness through confession”.
Because of ongoing measures in place to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, the Mass and distribution of ashes took place with a congregation of little more than 100 people at the Altar of the Chair in St Peter’s Basilica.
In St Peter’s Basilica, the Pope received ashes on his head from Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the basilica, and he distributed ashes to about three dozen cardinals, as well as the priests and deacons assisting him at the Mass.