The rite of the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of the faithful – which takes place during the liturgy at the beginning of Lent – marks the beginning of our “return journey” to God, Pope Francis said during his homily for the Mass of Ash Wednesday.
The Holy Father explained that the imposition of ashes is an exhortation both to return to the truth about ourselves, and to return to God and to our brothers and sisters.
The ashes, he said, remind us of who we are, recalling the “essential truth of our lives: that the Lord alone is God and we are the work of His hands.” Lent, then, becomes a time to remember that we rely on God, and at the same time “to drop the pretense of being self-sufficient.”
The Pope then turned to a second step in the journey back to God: returning to God and to our brothers and sisters. By dropping every presumption of self-sufficiency, and all forms of idolatry of self, we can begin to learn that “life is a relationship we receive from God and our parents,” and that we can always revive and renew our relationships “thanks to the Lord and those he puts at our side.”
“Lent, then, is a season of grace when we can rebuild our relationship with God and with others, opening our hearts in the silence of prayer and emerging from the fortress of our self-sufficiency.”
Finally, in order to make this journey, Pope Francis reminds the faithful of the three great paths of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, that are traditionally encouraged during Lent.
Yet as we heard in the Gospel,” the Pope noted, “Jesus warns us that rather than mere external rites, these must be actions expressing the renewal of our hearts.”
All too often, he warned, “our gestures and rites have no impact on our lives, but remain superficial.” But he said, if we remain humbly in the sight of God, our “almsgiving, prayer, and fasting will not simply remain outward displays, but will express what we truly are: children of God, and brothers and sisters to one another.”
Pope Francis concluded his homily with the exhortation to “bow our heads, receive the ashes, and lighten our hearts,” to set forth on the paths of charity, prayer, and fasting.
“Let us not neglect the grace of this holy season,” he said, “But fix our gaze on the Cross and set out, responding generously to the powerful promptings of Lent.”
“At the end of the journey, we will encounter with greater joy the Lord of life, who alone can raise us up from our ashes.”