Dear brothers and sisters,
Today the Lord pleads with us, his people, to “return to me with your whole heart” (Joel 2:12). In this cry from the Lord’s own heart we hear the truth of the Wisdom of Solomon: “Lord, you are merciful to all, and hate nothing that you have created. You overlook the sins of men to bring them to repentance” (Wisdom 11:24-25).
The Lord continuously calls out to us, “Return to me with your whole heart!” and we often deafen ourselves to his cry of love or simply walk away, preferring our own self-love to his love for us.
These days of purification, which we enter into today, are “a most valuable and important liturgical time” for they call us “to recognize our weakness and to accept, through a sincere inventory of our life, the renewing Grace of the Sacrament of Penance, and [to] walk resolutely towards Christ,” that we might truly return to him with our whole hearts (Pope Benedict XVI, Message for Lent 2011).
The ashes that will soon be placed on our heads are a sign of our desire to return to the Lord as we humbly beg him, “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned” (cf. Psalm 51:3).
The ashes call to mind our mortality and remind us that we have only so much time to return to him. They also remind us that every Christian must “live their Baptism as an act that shapes their entire existence” (Ibid.) Through the Lenten disciplines of self denial we ask the Lord to rekindle this great gift within us so that we might not “receive the grace of God in vain” (II Corinthians 6:1).
Through the season of Lent, Holy Mother Church longs to teach us to “how to live the love of Christ in an ever more radical way” by call us to a deepening of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Through prayer – especially through the reading of the Word of God – “we nourish the itinerary of faith initiated on the day of our Baptism;” fasting teaches us “to overcome selfishness in order to live in the logic of gift and love;” and almsgiving “is a reminder of God’s primacy and turns our attention toward others, so that we may rediscover how good our Father is, and receive his mercy” (Ibid.).
Let us, then, ask our heavenly Father to give us, through these sacred days, a genuine awareness of our sins, an authentic sorrow for them and the grace of an ever deepening conversion. May he be merciful toward us, forgive our sins and keep us faithful to the Baptism we have received. Amen.