Ash Wednesday – February 26, 2020 

In his Lenten message to the Church this year, Pope Francis invokes Saint Paul’s words in his second letter to the Church at Corinth, proclaimed in today’s Liturgy of the Word, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

In quoting Paul, the Holy Father reminds us all to reflect upon the urgency of this great season of grace and its invitation to conversion.  “Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again.  When you confess your sins, believe firmly in his mercy which frees you of your guilt.  Contemplate his blood poured out with such great love, and let yourself be cleanse by it.  In this way, you can be reborn ever anew,” (Christus Vivit, 123).

Essentially, Pope Francis reminds us all to make as our own the words of the Old Testament prophet Joel, who proclaims in our first scripture reading today, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping and mourning.  Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.”

Joel calls us to change our lives – to set aside all that keeps us from reflecting the life of God within our own lives.  But he boldly challenges us to enter into a dialogue with God not merely through gestures and religious practices – but by peering intensely into our hearts to insure that our spirit – the core of our being – is honest and pure and open to the transforming power and presence of God.

Indeed, Pope Francis reminds us that “the dialogue God wishes to establish with each of us through the paschal mystery of his Son has nothing to do with empty chatter” and meaningless rituals.  No, the dialogue that we are beckoned to engage should find us “feeling compassion towards the wounds of the crucified Christ present in the many innocent victims of wars, in attacks on life, from that of the unborn to the elderly, and various forms of violence.  They are likewise present in environmental disasters, the unequal distribution of the earth’s goods, human trafficking in all its forms, and the unbridled thirst for profit.”

In a few days, we will welcome catechumens into the ranks of the elect; those from our midst who have begun the journey of conversion and who will soon experience the saving power of Jesus in the Easter mysteries of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  Their “yes” reminds us that we too are called to look beyond ourselves – to recommit ourselves to the vows made at our own baptisms – to continually heed God’s Word – to encounter the living Christ in the sacraments of the Church – and then to serve Christ in our neighbor!

Our Lenten journey, my brothers and sisters, draws us to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.  We are baptized into the Lord Jesus – yes, for our life and salvation – but not solely for our own well-being.  Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor.  Then we will be able to experience and share to the fullest the joy of Easter and the glory of God in our midst.