ROME — Lent is a time for Christians to get their hearts in sync with the heart of Jesus, Pope Francis said.
"Let the Lord heal the wounds of sin and fulfill the prophecy made to our fathers: 'A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,'" the pope said Feb. 14, celebrating Mass and distributing ashes at the beginning of Lent.
After a brief prayer at the Benedictine's Monastery of St. Anselm, Pope Francis made the traditional Ash Wednesday procession to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome's Aventine Hill for the Mass.
He received ashes on his head from 93-year-old Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, and he distributed ashes to the cardinals present, three Benedictines, three Dominicans, an Italian couple with two children and members of the Pontifical Academy for Martyrs, which promotes the traditional Lenten "station church" pilgrimage in Rome.
In his homily, he said the Church gives Christians the 40 days of Lent as a time to reflect on "anything that could dampen or even corrode our believing heart."
Everyone experiences temptation, the pope said. Lent is a time to pause and step back from situations that lead to sin, a time to see how God is at work in others and in the world and, especially, a time to return to the Lord, knowing that His mercy is boundless.
Lent, he said, is a time "to allow our hearts to beat once more in tune with the vibrant heart of Jesus."
Hitting the reset button, the pope said, requires taking a pause from "bitter feelings, which never get us anywhere" and from a frantic pace of life that leaves too little time for family, friends, children, grandparents and God.
People need to pause from striving to be noticed, from snooty comments and "haughty looks," he said; instead, they need to show tenderness, compassion and even reverence for others.
"Pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing, that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence," the pope said.
Use the pauses of Lent "to look and contemplate," he suggested. Christians can learn from seeing the gestures others make that "keep the flame of faith and hope alive."
"Look at faces alive with God's tenderness and goodness working in our midst," the pope said, pointing to the faces of families who struggle to survive yet continue to love, the wrinkled faces of the elderly "that reflect God's wisdom at work" and the faces of the sick and their caregivers who "remind us that the value of each person can never be reduced to a question of calculation or utility."
"See the remorseful faces of so many who try to repair their errors and mistakes, and who from their misfortune and suffering, fight to transform their situations and move forward," Pope Francis said.
But most of all, he said, "see and contemplate the real face of Christ crucified out of love for everyone, without exception. For everyone? Yes, for everyone. To see His face is an invitation filled with hope for this Lenten time, in order to defeat the demons of distrust, apathy and resignation.
The invitation, he said, is to "return without fear to those outstretched, eager arms of your Father, who is rich in mercy, who awaits you."
"Return without fear to join in the celebration of those who are forgiven," the pope said. "Return without fear to experience the healing and reconciling tenderness of God."
Lent: Giving up, doing extra, or both, aren't one size fits all
WASHINGTON — People often talk about giving up something for Lent such as candy, soda or more recently, social media, while some commit to doing something extra including praying more, reading spiritual works or helping others.
And, it turns out, many do both.
This reporter conducted an unofficial poll Feb. 12 on Twitter where 57 percent of respondents said they planned to do something extra and 43 percent said they would give something up for Lent. But without the added option to do both, a few Twitter respondents commented that their true choice was a combination of the two practices for Lent's 40 days.
"Since both/and is in the nature of the Catholic (Church) I strive for one of each," wrote Susan Timoney, secretary for pastoral ministry in the Washington Archdiocese.
Father Mario Amore, associate pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Farmington, Mich., said the two ways to observe Lent really go hand in hand.
"We should be going beyond ourselves out of love to lend a helping hand, be an encouragement or assist others with the necessities of life. We should also be going out of our way to fast from something that we really like," he wrote in an email.
The priest stated that by fasting, the "physical craving or longing for a certain food might give us just a small glimpse of our longing for God, and even more, God's longing for us."
Paulist Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, who is an editor for Pauline Books and Media in Boston and also attends school part time at Boston College, similarly is a fan of giving up and doing something extra during Lent.
"People may not like to hear this, but I think Lent is a good time to do both," she said.
"For example, if I give up social media, I might also plan to use the extra time to read a spiritual book during the Lenten season," she told Catholic News Service.
Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Conn., asked his Twitter followers what they were giving up for Lent or doing as a spiritual work. He also asked if there was a way they could do both.
In another tweet, he wrote he had decided not to choose between the two practices this Lent but to do both "in the hope that the Lord, in His mercy, will grant me an ever greater personal renewal of faith, hope and charity."
For his combined Lenten effort, he said he was going to give up one hour of his day for increased prayer, beyond his normal prayer routine, which he said "will be hard to maintain but long overdue. To spend the hour with the Lord is a spiritual work beyond price."
Sister Theresa said she planned to give up social media in some form during Lent, noting that "it's a good idea to give up anything that has begun to take over our lives and draw us away from the Lord."
Another option, she said, is not to give up social media completely but to "participate in a more limited manner, or to post more spiritual and uplifting things."
— Carol Zimmermann, Catholic News Service