The Vatican

Lent, a journey back home

Pope Francis recalled the true meaning of Lent in his homily on Ash Wednesday: to return to God, to rediscover the joy of being loved.

David Fernández Alonso-February 17, 2021-Reading time: 4 minutes
Ash Wednesday

The Holy Father Francis was able to celebrate the Holy Mass of Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter's Basilica, while observing the sanitary measures. During the celebration, the imposition of ashes took place, which Francis imposed on the cardinals and collaborators present at the celebration.

The beginning of the road

The Pope began his homily by recalling that today "we begin the journey of Lent" and pointing out the direction to follow during these days until Holy Week: "There is an invitation that comes from the heart of God, who with open arms and eyes full of longing pleads with us: 'Turn to me with all your heart'" (Jl 2,12). Turn to me. Lent is a return trip to God. How many times, busy or indifferent, have we said to Him: "Lord, I will come back to You later... Today I cannot, but tomorrow I will start praying and doing something for others". Now God is calling to our heart. In life we will always have things to do and excuses to give, but now it is time to return to God."

Lent is the time to find our way back home.

Pope FrancisAsh Wednesday Homily

Therefore, continues the Pontiff, "Lent is a journey that involves our whole life, all that we are. It is the time to verify the paths we are walking, to find our way back home, to rediscover the fundamental bond with God, on which everything depends. Lent is not a gathering of little flowers, it is to discern where the heart is oriented. Let us ask ourselves: which way is the navigator of my life leading me, towards God or towards my self? Do I live to please the Lord, or to be seen, praised, preferred? Do I have a "dancing" heart, which takes one step forward and one step back, loves the Lord a little and the world a little, or a heart firm in God? Am I at ease with my hypocrisies, or do I struggle to free the heart from the duplicity and falsehood that shackle it?"

Francis explains that "the Lenten journey is a journey that is an exodus from slavery to freedom. They are forty days that recall the forty years in which God's people traveled in the desert to return to their land of origin. But how difficult it is to leave Egypt! Always, along the way, there was the temptation to long for the onions, to go back, to attach oneself to the memories of the past, to some idol. It is the same for us: the journey back to God is hindered by our unhealthy attachments, slowed down by the seductive bonds of vices, of the false securities of money and appearances, of the victimizing lamentation that paralyzes. To walk it is necessary to unmask these illusions".

Return trips

"How then should we proceed on the way to God?" the Pontiff asks. And then he proposes as an answer the return journeys recounted to us in the Word of God.

God's forgiveness, confession, is the first step in our return journey.

Pope FrancisAsh Wednesday Homily

Looking at the prodigal son, "we understand that it is also a time for us to back to Father. Like that son, we too have forgotten the perfume of home, we have squandered precious goods for insignificant things and we have remained empty-handed and unhappy at heart. We have fallen: we are children who continually fall, we are like little children who try to walk and fall to the ground, and always need their father to pick them up again. It is the Father's forgiveness that puts us back on our feet: God's forgiveness, confession, is the first step on our return journey".

To return to Jesus, we have to learn from "that healed leper who came back to thank him. Ten were healed, but he alone was also healed. branbecause he returned to Jesus (cf. Lc 17,12-19). We all have spiritual illnesses, but we cannot cure them alone; we all have deep-rooted vices, but we cannot eradicate them alone; we all have fears that paralyze us, but we cannot overcome them alone. We need to imitate that leper, who returned to Jesus and prostrated himself at his feet. We need the healing of JesusIt is necessary to present our wounds to Him and tell Him: "Jesus, I am here before You, with my sin, with my miseries. You are the doctor, You can set me free. Heal my heart".

He came to us first

Near the end of the homily, Pope Francis concluded that "our return trip to God is possible only because it was first produced their outbound journey to us. Before we came to Him, He came down to us. He went before us, He came to meet us. For us he descended lower than we could imagine: he became sin, he became death. This is what St. Paul reminded us: "God made him who committed no sin to be like sin for us" (1 Corinthians 5:1).2 Co 5,21). In order not to leave us alone and to accompany us on our journey, he descended to our sin and our death. Our journey, then, consists in letting ourselves be taken by the hand. The Father who calls us to return is the One who leaves home to come and meet us; the Lord who heals us is the One who let himself be wounded on the cross; the Spirit who makes us change our lives is the One who blows with strength and gentleness on our clay".

Let us place ourselves before the cross of Jesus: let us look at his wounds every day. In these wounds we recognize our emptiness, our faults, the wounds of sin, the blows that have hurt us.

Pope FrancisAsh Wednesday Homily

Referring to the act by which we bow our heads in the imposition of ashes, the Pope encourages us that "when Lent is over, we will bow down even more to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters. Lent is a humble abasement within ourselves and towards others. It is to understand that salvation is not a climb to glory, but a lowering of ourselves out of love. It is to become small. On this path, so as not to lose direction, let us place ourselves before the cross of Jesus: it is the silent seat of God. Let us look at his wounds every day. In those holes we recognize our emptiness, our faults, the wounds of sin, the blows that have hurt us".

However, Francis concludes, "it is precisely there that we see that God does not point a finger at us, but opens his arms wide. His wounds are open for us and in those wounds we have been healed (cf. 1 P 2,24; Is 53,5). Let us kiss them and we will understand that it is precisely there, in the most painful voids of life, that God awaits us with his infinite mercy. Because there, where we are most vulnerable, where we are most ashamed, He comes to meet us. And now he invites us to return to him, to rediscover the joy of being loved.

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