"How many times, in our activity or indifference, have we told him: 'Lord, I will come to you later, wait... I can't come today, but tomorrow I will begin to pray and do something for others,'" he said.
"God now appeals to our hearts," the pope said. "In this life, we will always have things to do and excuses to offer, but now, brothers and sisters, is the time to return to God."
According to Pope Francis, Lent is about more than the little sacrifices we make, but about realizing where our hearts are oriented, and turning them back toward relationship with God.
"Lent is a journey that involves our whole life, our entire being," he said, advising people to reflect on stories of conversion in Sacred Scripture to know how to start the journey of the Lenten season.
The story of the Prodigal Son, for example, shows us that it is time to return to the Father, he said: "We have fallen down, like little children who constantly fall, toddlers who try to walk but keep falling and need, time and time again, to be picked up by their father."
"It is the Father's forgiveness that always sets us back on our feet," he said. "God's forgiveness -- Confession -- is the first step on our return journey."
Another model to follow, the pope noted, is that of the leper who, healed by Jesus Christ from his illness, returned to him in thanksgiving.
"All of us, all, have spiritual infirmities that we cannot heal on our own. All of us have deep seated vices that we cannot uproot alone. All of us have paralyzing fears that we cannot overcome alone," he said.
"We need to imitate that leper, who came back to Jesus and threw himself at his feet," he urged. "We need Jesus' healing, we need to present our wounds to him and say: 'Jesus, I am in your presence, with my sin, with my sorrows. You are the physician. You can set me free. Heal my heart.'"
According to the pope, a part of Lent is lowering one's self, "becoming little."
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"Today we bow our heads to receive ashes. At the end of Lent, we will bow even lower to wash the feet of our brothers and sisters," he said.
"Lent is a humble descent both inwards and towards others," he added. "It is about realizing that salvation is not an ascent to glory, but a descent in love."