.- This morning at 10:30, Cardinal James Francis Stafford, major penitentiary of the Apostolic Penitentiary, presided at Ash Wednesday Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in the place of the Holy Father who remains at the Gemelli hospital.
The celebration took the place of the traditional Wednesday general audience and included a rite of introduction, the liturgy of the Word and homily, the blessing and distribution of ashes, the Lord's prayer and concluding rites.
In his homily, Cardinal Stafford spoke of "the joy and honor of presiding this ceremony in the Holy Father's name. We feel his spiritual presence among us and we think of him with affection and ask the Lord to give him the graces necessary for the charism of his primacy in confirming our brothers in the unity of the faith."
Quoting today's first reading, he said that everyone is called "to the duty of conversion.”
“Conversion”, he continued, “is not an experience we can live alone: it is born principally ... from gathering for the liturgy." In the Gospel of Matthew, the Cardinal said, "Jesus indicates three ways to live conversion: almsgiving, that is, sharing; prayer, entrusting oneself to the Lord; and fasting, that is, the capacity to impose limits on oneself.”
For both fasting and prayer, Jesus insists on the interior aspect… True prayer ... must arise from a heart that has decided to convert."
Cardinal Stafford pointed out that the Apostle Paul "exhorted the Christians of Corinth to reconcile with God. Conversion is, in fact, reconciliation, vertical reconciliation with God ... to which must correspond horizontal conversion with one's brothers."
He said that, "as major penitentiary I experience every day the beauty of the Sacrament of Penance, a gift of grace, a gift of life."
"It is the book of our lives," added the Cardinal, "that must give witness to the world that reconciliation, that is, peace, is possible. But there will be no peace without the indispensable attention to the poor" and the responsibility for this "lies principally in our consumer societies."
Cardinal Stafford added that, "Lent this year, according to the Holy Father's invitation, emphasizes our essential rapport with the Eucharist. ... I would like to summarize in three points our Lenten commitment: 1.The liturgy of the Church ... is the first instrument of authentic evangelization. 2, On Sundays we rediscover the Eucharist; and 3, With the Eucharist we rediscover the rapport between liturgy and life" which demands "resolute witnessing to true values: the family, personal honesty, commitments deriving from marriage, priestly celibacy and religious life ... without which there is no true spirit of poverty."