Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ash Wednesday in Rome

This afternoon - Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent - there was a prayer gathering in the form of a Roman Station which was presided over by the Holy Father.

At 4:30pm local time, in the church of Sant'Anselmo all'Aventino, there was a moment of prayer followed by a penitential procession toward the Basilica of Santa Sabina.  The procession involved Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Benedictine Monks from Sant'Anselmo, Dominican Fathers from Santa Sabina and some of the faithful.

At the conclusion of the procession, in the Basilica of Santa Sabina, the Holy Father, Pope Francis presided over the celebration of the Eucharist with the rite of blessing and imposition of ashes.

Homily of the Holy Father, Pope Francis
for the Ash Wednesday Mass

The season of Lent is a favourable time to correct the dissonant agreements in our Christian life and to welcome the news - the ever new, joyful and hopeful news - of the Lord's resurrection.  The Church, in her maternal wisdom, seeks to pay attention to everything that can cool or stall our believing hearts.

The temptations to which we are exposed are many.  Every one of us knows the difficulties that we must face.  And it is sad to see how, when faced with the daily variances in our lives, voices are raised which take advantage of the suffering and uncertainty that is encountered, unable to sow anything other than mistrust.  If the fruit of faith is charity - as Saint Teresa of Calcutta loved to say - the fruit of distrust is apathy and resignation.  Mistrust, apathy and resignation: the demons desensitize and paralyze the souls of a believing people.

Lent is a precious time to unmask these and other temptations, and to allow our hearts to return to beating in rhythm with the heart of Jesus.  This entire liturgy is filled with this feeling; we can say that it echoes in three words that are offered to us in order to warm the hearts of believers: stop, look and return.

Stop for a while, let go of all this agitation and this running without purpose that fills the soul with the bitter feeling that we never manage to get anywhere.  Stop, let go of the obligation to live at a frenetic pace, a pace that causes us to be spread thin, a pace that causes us to feel divided so that we end up forgetting about time for our families, time for friendships, time for children, time for our grandparents, time for gratitude ... time for God.

Stop for a while, let go of the need to appear and to be seen by everyone, to be continually on display, a need that makes us forget the values of intimacy and reflection.

Stop for a while, be aware of haughty gazes, fleeting and contemptuous comments that are the result of having forgotten tenderness, piety and respect for the encounter with others, especially those who are vulnerable, wounded and even immersed in sin and error.

Stop for a while, be aware of the constant need to control everything, to know everything, to destroy everything, a need that comes from the fact that we have forgotten the gift of gratitude for life and for many good blessings that we have received.

Stop for a while, be aware of the deafening noises that deaden and stun our ears and make us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence.

Stop for awhile, be aware of the attitude of holding on to sterile, unfruitful sentiments that are the result of being closed in upon ourselves, filled with self-pity, attitudes that cause us to forget how to go out to meet others in order to share their burdens and trials.

Stop for awhile before the emptiness of all that seems instantaneous, momentary and lacking in depth, everything that deprives us of being aware of our roots, the ties and values associated with the paths we walk, along which we discover ourselves and come to love ourselves.

Stop.  Stop in order to look and to contemplate!

Look, look for the signs that stop us from running short of charity, the signs that keep the flames of faith and hope alive.  Signs that help us to keep our faces alive and filled with the tenderness and goodness of God who is at work within us.

Look at the faces of our families who continue to strive day by day, expending great efforts in order to move forward in life and, despite their own shortcomings and narrowness, do not fail to create schools of love within their homes.

Look at the faces that challenge us, the faces of our children and our young people, full of hope for the future, full of tomorrow and the potential that demands dedication and protection.  They are living sprouts of love and life that always find a way to make their way through our own petty and selfish ambitions.

Look at the faces of our elderly, furrowed by the passing of time: faces that bear the living memory of our people, faces of God's wisdom at work.

Look at the faces of those who are sick and those who care for them; faces which in their vulnerability and their service remind us that the value of every person can never be calculated or reduced to a matter of usefulness.

Look at the repentant faces of many who seek to make up for their mistakes and, ever aware of their own sufferings and pain, struggle to transform situations that surround them and to move on.

Look at and contemplate the face of Love Crucified, which today, even from the cross, continues to proclaim hope; an outstretched hand for those who feel as though they themselves are crucified, who experience in their own lives the weight of failure, disappointment and disillusionment.

Look at and contemplate the face of Christ crucified, crucified for love of all people with no exceptions.  Love for everyone?  Love for everyone.  Looking upon his face shows us the hopeful invitation of this season of Lent, a chance to overcome the demons of distrust, apathy and resignation.  His is a face that invites us to exclaim: The kingdom of God is possible!

Stop, look and return.

Return to the house of your Father.  Return without fear to the eager and outstretched arms of your Father who is rich in mercy and who is waiting for you (cf Eph 2:4)!

Return!  Without fear: this is the favourable time to come back home, to the house of my Father and your Father (cf Jn 20:17).  This is the time to allow our hearts to be touched ... Remaining on the path of evil is only a source of illusion and sadness.  The true source of life is something completely different, and our hearts are very aware of this truth.  God never grows tired of holding out his hand (cf Bulla Misericordiae Vultus, 19).

Return without fear and experience the healing and reconciling tenderness of God!  Allow the Lord to heal the wounds of sin and to fulfill the prophecy of our fathers: I will give you a new heart, I will place within you a new spirit, I will take away from you your heart of stone and I will give you a heart of flesh (Ez 36:26).

Stop, look, return!

No comments: