My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
We begin again this year, the journey of Lent.
Lent is a time of sacrifice and fasting. A time of purification and conversion. But it is not meant to be a sad time, a time for sad faces. We heard those words of Jesus in our first reading, in the passage of the Gospel: “Do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.”
Lent is not a time for looking gloomy or sad. Lent is a time of good news!
Lent is a time of mercy, when God’s salvation is near to us. And, as we know, this is the Year of Mercy — the great jubilee declared by Pope Francis. So we should have joy, even though we are making sacrifices and even though we are fasting.
This year, especially, we need to really believe in the mercy of God, really open our hearts to his mercy. Then we can become merciful to our brothers and sisters.
So as we reflect on this, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that we all are sinners. Me, you, everyone we meet — even the Pope! Remember how he was interviewed and when they asked him “Who are you?” And he said, “I am a sinner.”
We’re all sinners.
This is just the truth about the human condition. We are not perfect. We are not God. But we are children of God – each one of us was made by God for a specific reason. And that means that we have a great dignity, a great destiny and purpose. That means that God is “invested” in our lives. God wants us to be happy, to be successful. To know love. To know beauty. To know truth.
But God knows that we make mistakes, that sometimes we have the sad reality of committing sins.
Some sins are bigger than others. We know these things and we know that sometimes we, sadly, stay in the state of sin for a long time. But no sin is too big for God! There is no one that God will not forgive — if we turn to him with contrition, in a spirit of penance, and asking him to forgive us.
“Return to me with your whole heart.” We heard these words from the prophet Joel in the first reading today.
This is the call of God. He is calling me, he’s calling you, he’s calling everyone. These ashes that we receive today are a sign — a sign that we want to come home to God.
My dear brothers and sisters, we cannot imagine how much God loves each one of us, personally. There will never be a day, never be an hour, when God is “done” with us. There will never be a time when he stops forgiving us.
So today, let’s ask for the grace to believe in the mercy of God. God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to die for us. On the Cross, Jesus set us free from sin, from selfishness, from addiction. From death. That’s how much God loves us. And Jesus, as we know, rose from the dead to walk with you on the pathways of this world.
So my brothers and sisters, today is the day for us to make a new beginning. To put our life back on the path to God. “Return to the Lord, your God.” Open your heart to the mercy of God. Let him heal your wounds, let him speak to your hurt.
So I hope that today, as we celebrate Ash Wednesday and receive the ashes, we make a new beginning. God is coming to us. And especially he’s coming — waiting for us to talk to him and to listen to him. To have an ongoing conversation with him.
And that is, as we all know, what prayer is all about. He wants us to desire him, to see him, to ask him, to open our hearts to him that he can reveal his plan of salvation, of joy, to each one of us.
That’s why, in these weeks of Lent, I’m especially suggesting to all of us in the Archdiocese to especially work on our prayer lives. Let’s ask ourselves: what else can we do? Maybe we’re not devoting enough time to prayer, or maybe, for whatever reason, we stopped praying. Maybe because we think that we are not getting anything out of it or we don’t have the time.
Let’s find the way to, everyday, find time to talk to God, to listen to God, to be with him, to be in the presence of God during the day. Then, this Year of Mercy will be a special time in our lives.
Then we can really become merciful to our brothers and sisters, ambassadors for Christ. That’s what our life is all about. That’s what we are called to be and to do. To change our society, to bring happiness, mercy to our brothers and sisters. Especially rediscovering for them the beauty of God’s love for each one of us.
I pray that our Blessed Mother Mary, who is the Mother of Mercy, will help all of us to make a new conversion during this Lenten season, starting with discovering the time to talk to God, to listen to him, and increase our prayer life.. And may she help us to be merciful to others, as God is merciful and loving to each one of us.
1. Reading (Ash Wednesday, Year C: Joel 2:12-18; Ps. 51:3-6, 12-13, 17; 2 Cor. 5:20-6:2; Matt. 6:1-6, 16-18.