Again this year, the pope celebrated Ash Wednesday on the Aventine Hill in Rome.
As per tradition, the Mass began here, in the Basilica of St. Anselm, with the penitential act. Afterward, Pope Francis walked to the Basilica of St. Sabina, nearby.
It is a short but meaningful procession, symbolizing the Lenten journey beginning on this day.
During his homily, the pope said human beings are dust, but dust infinitely valuable in the eyes of God. That, he said, is the meaning of Lent.
“Lent is not a time for useless sermons, but for recognizing that our lowly ashes are loved by God. It is a time of grace, a time for letting God gaze upon us with love and in this way change our lives.”
To change our lives means also to acknowledge our call to fulfill God's dream of loving, said Pope Francis.
“If I live only to earn money, to have a good time, to gain a bit of prestige or a promotion in my work, I am living for dust. If I am unhappy with life because I think I do not get enough respect or receive what I think is my due, then I am simply staring at dust.”
That's why the pope explained there are two paths from which to choose. One goes from dust to life and requires contemplating Christ. The other path leads from life to dust, when we reduce life to the ashes of selfishness and death.
“There is all this dust that besmirches our love and mars our life. Even in the Church, the house of God, we have let so much dust collect, the dust of worldliness.
How many times do we preach one thing and practice another! How many times do we make ourselves look good on the outside while nursing grudges within! How much duplicity do we have in our hearts... All this is dust that besmirches, ashes that extinguish the fire of love.”
After the homily came the imposition of the ashes. The pope was the first to receive them, from Cardinal Jozef Romko, who has the basilica as his titular church. Then Pope Francis imposed the ashes on others.
This ceremony marks the beginning of this year's Lenten season. Pope Francis invites Christians to take advantage of this time to shake off spiritual sluggishness.
Translation: Claudia Torres