By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis summoned Christians to slow down in a fast-paced and often directionless life and fast from the unnecessary things that distract us, to heed Lent that he described as "a wake-up call for the soul".
The Pope’s words came during the homily at Holy Mass on Ash Wednesday with the blessing and imposition of the ashes that took place, as per tradition, in the Basilica of Saint Sabina on the Aventine Hill.
He noted that this wake-up call is accompanied by the message that the Lord proclaims through the lips of the prophet: “Return to me.”
If we have to return, the Pope said, it means that we have wandered off.
Lent: a time to rediscover the direction of life
“Lent is the time to rediscover the direction of life. Because in life’s journey, as in every journey, what really matters is not to lose sight of the goal” he said.
The Pope said that during a journey, if we are distracted we will not get far, and he encouraged believers to ask themselves whether they are seeking the way forward in the journey of life or whether they are satisfied with living in the moment and thinking only of feeling good, solving some problems and having fun.
“What is the path?” he said, “Is it the search for health, which many today say comes first but which eventually passes? Could it be possessions and wellbeing?”
The Lord is the goal of our journey
We are not in the world for this, Pope Francis pointed out, “the Lord is the goal of our journey in this world. The direction must lead to him”.
The Pope explained that the mark of ash we receive on Ash Wednesday is a sign that helps us find our direction: “it is a reminder that of the many things occupying our thoughts, which we chase after and worry about every day, nothing will remain. No matter how hard we work, we will take no wealth with us from this life”.
Earthly realities, he said, “fade away like dust in the wind. Possessions are temporary, power passes, success wanes”.
“The culture of appearance prevalent today, which persuades us to live for passing things, is a great deception. It is like a blaze: once ended, only ash remains” he said.
The Pope said that “Lent is the time to free ourselves from the illusion of chasing after dust” and for rediscovering that “we are created for God, not for the world; for the eternity of heaven, not for earthly deceit; for the freedom of the children of God, not for slavery to things. We should ask ourselves today: Where do I stand? Do I live for fire or for ash?”
The three steps of Lent
Pope Francis reminded the faithful that the Gospel proposes three steps that are to be undertaken without hypocrisy and pretence: almsgiving, prayer, fasting.
He said they are practices that bring us back to the three realities that do not fade away: “Prayer reunites us to God; charity, to our neighbour; fasting, to ourselves”.
God, my neighbour, my life
He explained that "God, my neighbour, my life" are the realities that do not fade away and in which we must invest.
Lent, Pope Francis said, invites us to focus, “first of all on the Almighty, in prayer, which frees us from that horizontal and mundane life where we find time for self but forget God. It then invites us to focus on others, with the charity that frees us from the vanity of acquiring and of thinking that things are only good if they are good for me. Finally, Lent invites us to look inside our heart, with fasting, which frees us from attachment to things and from the worldliness that numbs the heart. Prayer, charity, fasting: three investments for a treasure that endures”.
The Holy Father also reflected on the need we have for direction as we risk being distracted by outwards appearance, by money, career or hobbies – all things - he said, that can enslave us and cause us to loose direction.
“Whereas if our heart is attached to what does not pass away, we rediscover ourselves and are set free” he said.
Lent: a time of grace
“Lent is a time of grace that liberates the heart from vanity” Pope Francis said, “It is a time of healing from addictions that seduce us. It is a time to fix our gaze on what abides”.
The Pope concluded his homily inviting Christians to fix their gaze upon the Crucified one saying “Jesus on the cross is life’s compass, which directs us to heaven”.
“From the cross, Jesus teaches us the great courage involved in renunciation” he said, urging us to “free ourselves from the clutches of consumerism and the snares of selfishness, from always wanting more, from never being satisfied, and from a heart closed to the needs of the poor”.
It is difficult to live as He asks, the Pope said, but it leads us to our goal and “if we take the path of love, then we will embrace the life that never ends. And we will be full of joy”.