Lent is a journey of purification and penance, a movement that should bring one tearfully back to the loving arms of the merciful Father, Pope Francis has said at an Ash Wednesday Mass.
The Pope celebrated the Mass at the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina after a procession from the Benedictine monastery of St Anselm. He received ashes on the top of his head from Cardinal Jozef Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, and distributed ashes to the Benedictines, the Dominicans, his closest aides and a family of five.
When a priest places ashes on one’s head or forehead, he recited: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Both, Pope Francis said, are “a reminder of the truth of human existence: We are limited creatures, sinners always in need of repentance and conversion. How important it is to listen and accept these reminders.”
In his homily before the ashes were distributed, the Pope encouraged Catholics to ask God for “the gift of tears in order to make our prayer and our journey of conversion more authentic and without hypocrisy”.
The day’s first reading, Jl 2:12-18, described the Old Testament priests weeping as they prayed that God would spare their people. “It would do us good to ask, do I cry? Does the Pope cry? Do the cardinals? The bishops? Consecrated people? Priests? Do tears come when we pray?”
In the day’s Gospel reading (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18), Jesus warns his disciples three times against showing off the good works they do “like the hypocrites do”.
“When we do something good, almost instinctively the desire is born in us to be esteemed and admired for this good action, to get some satisfaction from it,” the Pope said. But Jesus “calls us to do these things without any ostentation and to trust only in God’s reward”.