ROME — Prayer, charity and fasting have a medicinal power to purify oneself, help others and change history, Pope Francis wrote in a homily read by Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Prayer, charity and fasting “are weapons of the spirit and, with them, on this day of prayer and fasting for Ukraine, we implore from God that peace which men and women are incapable of building by themselves,” the pope wrote.
Italian Cardinal Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, celebrated the March 2 Ash Wednesday Mass instead of Pope Francis, who had been prescribed rest for severe knee pain by his doctors. The 85-year-old pope had led the weekly general audience earlier in the day.
Before the Mass, Cardinal Parolin, other cardinals, bishops, religious and lay faithful walked from the Benedictine monastery of St. Anselm to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill. At the basilica, Cardinal Parolin received ashes on the top of his head from Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, and distributed ashes to a number of cardinals, Benedictines, Dominicans and others attending the Mass.
The rite of receiving ashes helps people reflect on “the transience of our human condition,” the pope wrote in his homily. “It is like a medicine that has a bitter taste and yet is effective for curing the illness of appearances, a spiritual illness that enslaves us and makes us dependent on the admiration of others.”
“Those who seek worldly rewards never find peace or contribute to peace. They lose sight of the Father and their brothers and sisters,” he wrote. “Let us make a diagnosis of the appearances that we seek, and let us try to unmask them. It will do us good.”
Lent is also a journey of healing, he wrote, that requires living each day with “a renewed spirit, a different ‘style’” that is aided by prayer, charity and fasting, he wrote.
“The ashes bespeak the emptiness hiding behind the frenetic quest for worldly rewards,” the pope wrote. “They remind us that worldliness is like the dust that is carried away by a slight gust of wind. Sisters and brothers, we are not in this world to chase the wind; our hearts thirst for eternity. Lent is the time granted us by the Lord to be renewed, to nurture our interior life and to journey towards Easter, toward the things that do not pass away, toward the reward we are to receive from the Father.”
“Purified by the Lenten ashes, purified of the hypocrisy of appearances,” prayer, charity and fasting “become even more powerful and restore us to a living relationship with God, our brothers and sisters, and ourselves,” he wrote.
“Lenten charity, purified by these ashes, brings us back to what is essential, to the deep joy to be found in giving,” without pride and ostentation, but hidden and “far from the spotlights,” wrote the pope.
And, he wrote, fasting is not a diet for the body, but a way to keep the spirit healthy, freeing people from being self-centered.
Fasting should also not be restricted to food alone, he wrote. “Especially during Lent, we should fast from anything that can create in us any kind of addiction,” so that fasting will have an actual impact on one’s life.
“Prayer, charity and fasting are not medicines meant only for ourselves but for everyone: Because they can change history,” because those who experience their effects “almost unconsciously pass them on to others” and because these are “the principal ways for God to intervene in our lives and in the world,” he wrote.
In his written homily, the pope asked people to stop being in a rush and to find the time to stand in silence before God.
“Let us rediscover the fruitfulness and simplicity of a heartfelt dialogue with the Lord. For God is not interested in appearances. Instead, He loves to be found in secret, ‘the secrecy of love,’ far from all ostentation and clamor.”