“Lent is the favorable time when we can break the chains of our individualism and rediscover, through encounter and listening ― not solitude but through encounter and listening ― our companions along the journey of each day. And to learn once more to love them as brothers and sisters.”
Quoting from the 2006 Ash Wednesday homily of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, Francis said: “Jesus gives ‘advice that still retains its salutary value for us: external gestures must always be matched by a sincere heart and consistent behavior. Indeed, the inspired author wonders, what use is it to tear our garments if our hearts remain distant from the Lord, that is, from goodness and justice?’”
Pope Francis said Wednesday that there are many times our gestures and rituals do not reflect life and truth.
“Perhaps we perform them only to gain the admiration or esteem of others many times,” he said. “Let us remember this: in our personal life, as in the life of the Church, outward displays, human judgments, and the world’s approval count for nothing; the only thing that truly matters is the truth and love that God himself sees.”
He reflected on the Church’s call to strengthen one’s commitment to prayer, almsgiving, and fasting during the approximately 40 days of Lent.
“Let us set out on the path of charity,” he said. “We have been given 40 days, a ‘favorable time’ to remind ourselves that the world is bigger than our narrow personal needs and to rediscover the joy, not of accumulating material goods, but of caring for those who are poor and afflicted.”
“Let us set out, then, on the path of prayer and use these 40 days to restore God’s primacy in our lives and to dialogue with him from the heart, and not only in spare moments,” he continued.
“Let us not neglect the grace of this holy season but fix our gaze on the cross and set out, responding generously to the powerful promptings of Lent,” he said. “At the end of the journey, we will encounter with greater joy the Lord of life ― we will encounter him ― who alone can raise us up from our ashes.”
Hannah Brockhaus is Catholic News Agency's senior Rome correspondent. She grew up in Omaha, Nebraska, and has a degree in English from Truman State University in Missouri.