My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
Today, we are setting out on the spiritual journey of Lent.
In these coming 40 days, we share the desert time of Jesus as he was preparing for his public life. And we are preparing for Easter when we renew the promises of our Baptism.
During Lent, are more conscious that we are following Jesus on his way to the Cross, carrying our own crosses along with him. We are trying in these 40 days to share in some of his sufferings. So we fast and pray, and we make sacrifices and deny ourselves — just as Jesus did.
Lent gives us a new opportunity to be more serious about our personal conversion to Christ, more serious about becoming the people that God wants us to be.
In his message for Lent this year, Pope Francis is calling on us to use these 40 days to grow in mercy and compassion for others.
The Pope is inviting us to live this Lent as an opportunity, he says, to engage in the “formation of the heart” — to make our hearts more like the merciful heart of Jesus.
I think this is a beautiful thought for us to consider in our Lenten journey.
So during Lent we can pray and ask Jesus for this grace. We can ask him: “Jesus, make our hearts like yours.” We can ask him to make our hearts merciful and generous and open to the needs of others.
How do we do that?
To make our hearts like Jesus during this Lent, we obviously need to grow in our relationship with God. So it is important for us to find a way to be more in the presence of God, finding the time to pray, or trying to come to daily Mass, or going to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
But we can also make sacrifices to care for one another, as we pray in the opening prayer of today’s Mass — starting a campaign for Christian service. Maybe by visiting our neighbors or family members who are sick and elderly; or maybe by finding more time to be with our children and our spouses.
So Lent is a wonderful time. It is a time to try to follow Jesus more closely and to try to make our hearts more like his.
We cannot forget that Jesus gave us the call to go out all over the world. To share with everyone the beauty of our Catholic faith. As St. Paul says in today’s second reading, we are ambassadors for Christ. What a beautiful adventure!
That’s why Lent is such a special, beautiful time in the life of the Church because it really helps us to get closer to Jesus and prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter.
And as I said, it’s not that we have to do something absolutely different or special, it’s mostly just little things — listening to others, serving others in our daily life at home or at work. It is a beautiful call.
And that’s why Lent is a joyful time, because we have the opportunity to make real efforts to love one another and to get closer to Jesus. But especially going out of our way to make life better for others — especially the poorest and the weakest members of our human family.
So let us ask Mary Our Blessed Mother for her intercession. Let us ask her to accompany us on our Lenten journey.
May she help us all to deepen our conversion to Christ and to become better Christians, better followers of Jesus, with a heart that is merciful like his heart.
1. Readings (Ash Wednesday, Year B): Joel 2:12-18; Ps. 51:3-6, 12-13, 17; 2 Cor. 5:20-6:2; Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18.