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Pope Francis placed ashes on the head of a cardinal during Ash Wednesday Mass at Santa Sabina Basilica in Rome Feb. 26.
Pope Francis placed ashes on the head of a cardinal during Ash Wednesday Mass at Santa Sabina Basilica in Rome Feb. 26.
Photo Credit: Remo Casilli | Reuters

Pope: Lent is a time to reflect on God’s love, not ‘useless sermons’

Pope Francis celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Sabina Basilica in Rome

ROME — Ashes not only symbolize humanity’s frail mortality but are also a reminder of God’s infinite love of people, whom He created from dust, Pope Francis said.

While men and women are just “dust in the universe” compared to the galaxies and space, “we are thus a dust that is precious, destined for eternal life” with God, the pope said Feb. 26, celebrating Mass and distributing ashes at the beginning of Lent.

“For Lent is not a time for useless sermons, but for recognizing that our lowly ashes are loved by God,” he said. “It is a time of grace, a time for letting God gaze upon us with love and in this way change our lives. We were put in this world to go from ashes to life.”

After a brief prayer at the Benedictine’s Monastery of St. Anselm, Pope Francis walked in the traditional Ash Wednesday procession to the nearby Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina, on Rome’s Aventine Hill, for the Mass.

The pope received ashes on his head from 95-year-old Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, and distributed ashes to the cardinals present, as well as to Benedictines from St. Anselm, Dominicans from Santa Sabina and some laypeople.

In his homily, the pope said that the placing of ashes on the forehead is a reminder that although humanity is merely dust in the earth, it can also become something wondrous “if we allow ourselves to be shaped by the hands of God.”

“More often than not, though, especially at times of difficulty and loneliness, we only see our dust. But the Lord encourages us: In His eyes, our littleness is of infinite value. So, let us take heart: We were born to be loved; we were born to be children of God,” he said.

Christians are called to avoid “the fleeting realities of this world,” which ultimately turn to dust, and instead embrace the life that God wishes to give them, he said.

If a person lives to earn money or seek pleasure, prestige or promotions, he or she is “simply staring at dust,” the pope said.

“That is not why we have been put in this world,” he said. “We are worth so much more. We live for so much more, for we are meant to make God’s dream a reality and to love.”

Ashes are also a reminder of the “dust of death” brought on by war and of “lives reduced to ashes,” including the lives of those who are unwelcomed, the poor and “the abandoned elderly.”

The fire of God’s love, he added, is often extinguished by the “ashes of hypocrisy,” especially in Christians who do acts of charity, prayer or fasting “only to be recognized, to look good, to satisfy our ego.”

“How often do we profess to be Christians, yet in our hearts readily yield to passions that enslave us? How often do we preach one thing and practice another?How many times do we make ourselves look good on the outside while nursing grudges within? How much duplicity do we have in our hearts? All this is dust that besmirches, ashes that extinguish the fire of love,” the pope said.

Lent, he said, “is a time of healing” and through contemplating the cross and the sacrament of penance, Christians can encounter God’s forgiving love, which “consumes the ashes of our sin.”

“The embrace of the Father in confession renews us from inside and purifies our heart,” Pope Francis said. “Let us allow ourselves to be loved, so that we can give love in return. Let us allow ourselves to stand up and walk toward Easter. Then we will experience the joy of discovering how God raises us up from our ashes.”

Reconciling oneself to God leads to healing, pope says in Lenten message

By Carol Glatz | Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — Lent is a time for deeper dialogue with God through prayer, for renewed gratitude for God’s mercy and for increased compassion for people whose lives are under attack, Pope Francis said.

Also, people must not only show generosity through charitable giving, but they should also work for a real structural change to today’s “economic life,” the pope said in his annual message for Lent, which begins Feb. 26 for Latin-rite Catholics.

The text of the pope’s message was released by the Vatican Feb. 24.

Contemplating the great mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus and putting it at the center of one’s life “means feeling compassion toward the wounds of the crucified Christ present in the many innocent victims of wars, in attacks on life from that of the unborn to that of the elderly, and various forms of violence,” the pope said in his message.

These wounds are “likewise present in environmental disasters, the unequal distribution of the earth’s goods, human trafficking in all its forms and the unbridled thirst for profit, which is a form of idolatry,” he said.

Not only are Christians called to generously share the richness of the Gospel and gifts from God, “today, too, there is a need to appeal to men and women of goodwill to share, by almsgiving, their goods with those most in need, as a means of personally participating in the building of a better world,” he said.

“Charitable giving makes us more human, whereas hoarding risks making us less human, imprisoned by our own selfishness,” he said.

“We can and must go even further, and consider the structural aspects of our economic life,” he said.

The theme of the pope’s message, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God,” was taken from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (5:20), which reflects the invitation to return to God through constant conversion and reconciliation, and experience new life in Christ.

“Life is born of the love of God our father, from His desire to grant us life in abundance,” Pope Francis wrote.

Pope Francis asked in his message that the Lenten season lead to people opening their hearts “to hear God’s call to be reconciled to Himself, to fix our gaze on the paschal mystery, and to be converted to an open and sincere dialogue with Him” so that everyone become “what Christ asks His disciples to be: the salt of the earth and the light of the world.”

Read the full text of the pope’s Lenten message at www.bit.ly/2TkZEpc

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