By Devin Watkins
Following an ancient Ash Wednesday tradition, Pope Francis began the “stational” liturgy at the church of Sant’Anselmo before leading a penitential procession to the Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill where he celebrated Mass.
In his homily, the Pope reflected on ashes imposed on the foreheads of the faithful at the start of Lent.
Dust loved by God
“We are dust in the universe,” he said. “Yet we are dust loved by God.”
The Holy Father added that we are precious dust that is destined for eternal life.
“We are the dust of the earth, upon which God has poured out his heaven, the dust that contains his dreams,” he said. “We are God’s hope, his treasure and his glory.”
From dust to life
Pope Francis went on to describe ashes as a reminder of the direction of our existence: “a passage from dust to life.”
But if we allow ourselves “to be shaped by the hands of God, we become something wonderous.”
Lent, he said, is a time of grace during which we can change our lives by letting God gaze upon us with love.
Living for God
The Pope noted that the ashes on our foreheads should influence the thoughts passing through our minds.
“What am I living for?” is the question we should ask ourselves.
If we live for fleeting, worldly realities, then we spend our lives chasing after dust, moving backwards from life to ashes. But, he said, if we live to love and make God’s dream a reality, then we allow the fire of love to be kindled in our hearts.
“Our earthly possessions will prove useless, dust that scatters, but the love we share – in our families, at work, in the Church and in the world – will save us, for it will endure forever.”
Dust of death
Pope Francis said ashes also remind us of the “dust of death”.
War, exclusion of the poor and elderly, and family quarrels all negatively affect our lives and weaken our love.
“Let us look inside, into our hearts: how many times do we extinguish the fire of God with the ashes of hypocrisy!”
Be reconciled to God
St. Paul, said the Pope, shows us how to be cleansed of all the dust sullying our hearts: “Be reconciled to God!” He said the Apostle to the Gentiles uses the passive form of the verb, because “holiness is not achieve by our efforts, for it is grace!”
“Only Jesus, who knows and loves our heart, can heal it. Lent is a time of healing.”