HOMILY OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS
St. Peter's Basilica
Wednesday, February 17, 2021
We begin the journey of Lent. It opens with the words of the prophet Joel, which indicate the direction to follow. There is an invitation that comes from the heart of God, who with open arms and eyes full of nostalgia begs us: "Return to me with all your heart" ( Jn 2:12).
Come back to me . Lent is a journey back to God. How many times, busy or indifferent, have we told him: "Lord, I will come to You later, wait ... Today I can't, but tomorrow I will begin to pray and do something for others". And so day after day. Now God appeals to our heart. In life we will always have things to do and we will have excuses to present, but, brothers and sisters, today is the time to return to God.
Come back to me, he says, with all your heart. Lent is a journey that involves our whole life, all of ourselves. It is the time to check the roads we are taking, to find the way back home, to rediscover the fundamental bond with God, on which everything depends. Lent is not a collection of little flowers, it is discerning where the heart is oriented. This is the center of Lent: where is my heart oriented? Let's try to ask ourselves: where does the navigator of my life take me, to God or to my self? Do I live to please the Lord, or to be noticed, praised, preferred, first and so on? Do I have a “dancing” heart, which takes one step forward and one backward, loves the Lord a little and the world a little, or a heart steadfast in God? Am I okay with my hypocrisies, or do I struggle to free my heart from the duplicity and falsehoods that bind it?
The journey of Lent is an exodus, it is an exodus from slavery to freedom. It is forty days that mark the forty years in which God's people traveled in the desert to return to their homeland. But how difficult it was to leave Egypt! It was more difficult to leave the Egypt of the hearts of God's people, that Egypt that they always carried inside, than to leave the land of Egypt… It is very difficult to leave Egypt. Always, along the way, there was the temptation to regret the onions, to go back, to bind to the memories of the past, to some idol. It is like this for us too: the journey back to God is hindered by our unhealthy attachments, it is held back by the seductive snares of vices, by the false security of money and appearances, by the victim's lament that paralyzes. In order to walk one must unmask these illusions.
But we ask ourselves: how then to proceed on the path to God? The return journeys that the Word of God tells us help us.
We look to the prodigal son and understand that it is also time for us to return to the Father . Like that son, we too have forgotten the scent of home, we have squandered precious goods for little things and we are left with empty hands and a discontented heart. We have fallen: we are children who continually fall, we are like little children who try to walk but go to the ground, and they need to be lifted up every time by their father. It is the Father's forgiveness that always puts us back on our feet: God's forgiveness, Confession, is the first step on our return journey. I said to Confession, I recommend the confessors: be like the father, not with the whip, with the embrace.
Then we need to return to Jesus , to do like that healed leper who returned to thank him. Ten of them had been healed, but he alone was also saved , because he had returned to Jesus (cf. Lk 17 : 12-19). We all, we all have spiritual diseases, we cannot heal them alone; we all have deep-seated vices, alone we cannot eradicate them; we all have fears that paralyze us, we cannot defeat them alone. We need to imitate that leper, who returned to Jesus and threw himself at his feet. We need the healing of Jesus , we need to put our wounds in front of him and tell him: “Jesus, I am here before You, with my sin, with my miseries. You are the doctor, You can set me free. Heal my heart ”.
Again: the Word of God asks us to return to the Father, asks us to return to Jesus, and we are called to return to the Holy Spirit . The ash on the head reminds us that we are dust and to dust we will return. But on this dust of ours God has blown his Spirit of life. Then we cannot live chasing the dust, chasing things that exist today and vanish tomorrow. Let us return to the Spirit, Giver of life, let us return to the Fire that makes our ashes rise again, to that Fire that teaches us to love. We will always be dust but, as a liturgical hymn says, dust in love. Let us return to praying to the Holy Spirit, let us rediscover the fire of praise , which burns the ashes of lamentation and resignation.
Brothers and sisters, this journey of ours back to God is only possible because there has been his outward journey towards us . Otherwise it would not have been possible. Before we went to him, he came down to us. He preceded us, he came to meet us. For us it went lower than we could imagine: it became sin, it became death. This is what St. Paul reminded us: "He who knew no sin, God made him sin in our favor" ( 2 Cor5.21). In order not to leave us alone and accompany us on the journey, he descended into our sin and our death, he touched sin, he touched our death. Our journey, then, is to let ourselves be taken by the hand. The Father who calls us to return is the One who leaves the house to come looking for us; the Lord who heals us is the One who let himself be wounded on the cross; the Spirit who makes us change our lives is the One who blows with strength and sweetness on our dust.
Here then is the Apostle's plea: "Be reconciled to God" (v. 20). Let yourself be reconciled: the journey is not based on our strength; no one can be reconciled with God with his own strength, he cannot. The conversion of the heart, with the gestures and practices that express it, is possible only if it starts from the primacy of God's action. It is not our skills and merits to show off, but his grace to welcome that makes us return to him. . Grace saves us, salvation is pure grace, pure gratuitousness. Jesus told us clearly in the Gospel: what makes us righteous is not the justice we practice before men, but the sincere relationship with the Father. The beginning of the return to God is to recognize ourselves in need of him, in need of mercy, in need of his grace. This is the right way, the way of humility. Do I feel needy or do I feel self-sufficient?
Today we lower our heads to receive the ashes. After Lent we will lower ourselves even more to wash the feet of the brothers. Lent is a humble descent within us and towards others. It is to understand that salvation is not a climb to glory, but a lowering of love. It is making us small. On this journey, so as not to lose our way, let us place ourselves in front of the cross of Jesus: it is the silent chair of God. Let us look at his wounds every day, the wounds he brought to Heaven and shows the Father, every day, in the his intercessory prayer. We look at his wounds every day. In those holes we recognize our emptiness, our shortcomings, the wounds of sin, the blows that have hurt us. Yet right there we see that God does not point the finger at us, but opens his hands to us.1 Pt 2.25; Is 53.5). Let's kiss them and we will understand that right there, in the most painful holes of life, God awaits us with his infinite mercy. Because there, where we are most vulnerable, where we are most ashamed, He came to meet us. And now that he has come to meet us, he invites us to return to him, to rediscover the joy of being loved.