Vatican City, 10 February 2016 (VIS) - This afternoon, Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, Pope Francis celebrated Holy Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, with the rite of the blessing and imposition of the ashes and the conferral of the mandate to the Jubilee Missionaries of Mercy. Cardinals, bishops and more than 700 Missionaries concelebrated with the Holy Father, who at the end of the Mass conferred upon the Missionaries their mandate and the faculty of absolving sins reserved to the Apostolic See. There are more than a thousand Missionaries of Mercy throughout the world, bearing special witness in each Church to the extraordinary nature of the Jubilee.
In his homily, the Holy Father remarked that at the beginning of the Lenten period, the Word of God addresses two invitations to us: "The first, as St. Paul said, is to let ourselves be reconciled with God ... as Christ knows the weakness of our heart; He sees that it is wounded by the evil we have committed and suffered; He knows how much we are in need of forgiveness, and He knows that we need to feel we are loved in order to do good. We are not able to do this by ourselves: therefore the apostle does not tell us to do something, but rather to let ourselves be reconciliated with God. ... He vanquishes sin and lifts us up from our miseries, if we entrust them to Him. It is up to us to recognise that we are in need of mercy; it is the first step on the Christian path and means entering through the open door that is Christ, where He Himself, the Saviour, awaits us and offers us a new and joyful life".
There are some obstacles to the doors of the heart, and the Pope included among these the "temptation to lock the doors, or rather to live with our sin, minimising it, always justifying it, thinking that we are no worse than others; in this way, however, we lock up our soul and stay trapped inside, prisoners of evil. Another obstacle is our shame at opening the secret door of the heart. Shame, in reality, is a good symptom, as it indicates that we want to reject evil; however, one must not convert in fear". The third obstacle is that of "distancing ourselves from the door, which happens when we close ourselves up in our miseries, when we dwell on them continually, linking the negative aspects among them to the point of casting ourselves into the darkest depths of the soul. We become familiar with the sadness we do not want, we are discouraged and we become weaker when faced with temptation. This happens when we stay by ourselves, closing ourselves away and hiding from the light, whereas only the grace of the Lord can free us".
God's second invitation comes from the prophet Joel: "Return to me with all your heart". "If there is a need to return, it is because we have drifted away", observed the Holy Father. "It is the mystery of sin: we have drifted away from God, from others, from ourselves. It is not difficult to become aware of this: we all see how we struggle to truly trust in God, to entrust ourselves to Him as our Father, without fear; how arduous it may be to love others; how much it costs us to truly do good, while we are attracted and seduced by so many material things, which vanish and in the end leave us poor. Alongside this history of sin, Jesus inaugurated a history of salvation. The Gospel that opens Lent invites us to be active agents, embracing three remedies, three forms of 'medicine' that cure us from sin".
The first is "prayer, the expression of openness and trust in the Lord: it is a personal encounter with Him, that reduces the distances created by sin. Praying means saying, 'I am not self-sufficient, I need You. You are my life and my salvation'". The second medicine, continued the Pope, is "charity, to overcome the sensation of extraneousness in relation to others. True love, in fact, is not an external act; it is not about giving in a paternalistic fashion to ease our conscience, but rather accepting those who are in need of our time, our friendship and our help". Finally, "fasting, penance to free ourselves of the dependencies of the past and to learn to become more sensitive and merciful. It is an invitation to simplicity and sharing: giving up something from our own table, some of our own goods, to rediscover the true good of freedom".
"Turn to me, says the Lord, turn with all your heart. Not only by external acts", emphasised the Holy Father at the end of his homily, "but rather from the very depths of our selves. Jesus calls us to live prayer, charity and penance with coherence and genuineness, conquering hypocrisy. May Lent be a time for 'pruning' away falsity, worldliness and indifference, so as not to think that 'everything is fine if I am fine', to understand that what counts is not approval, the pursuit of success or consent, but rather the purity of heart and life to rediscover Christian identity, which is love that serves, not selfishness that serves itself".