PRESIDED OVER BY THE HOLY FATHER
HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II
Ash Wednesday, 13 February 2002
1. "Rend your hearts and not your garments, return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and gracious" (Jl 2,13).
With these words of the prophet Joel, the liturgy today leads us into Lent. The liturgy assures us that the conversion of heart is the basic feature of the wonderful time of grace that we begin to live. Likewise, it suggests the deep motivation that makes us capable of getting back on the path toward God: it is the renewed appreciation that the Lord is merciful and that every human being is a son whom He loves and calls to conversion.
The exhortation "return to the Lord your God" implies that we detach ourselves from what keeps us far from Him. Our being detached is the necessary starting place for re-establishing with God the covenant broken by sin.
At the centre of the entire course of the Apostle's argument, the reference to Christ shows that in Him the sinner receives the possibility of an authentic reconciliation. Indeed, "God made him who did not know sin to be sin so that in him we might become the justice of God" (2 Cor 5,21). Only Christ can transform a situation of sin into a situation of grace. Only he can create an acceptable time out of the time in which humanity is immersed in and swept away by sin, upset by divisions and hatred. "He is our peace, who has made both of us one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility ... to reconcile both with God in one body through the cross" (Eph 2,14-16).
This is the acceptable time! The time is offered today to us, who undertake with a penitent spirit the austere Lenten journey.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, following the custom of the Lenten stations, we are gathered here in the ancient Basilica of Santa Sabina, to respond to that pressing appeal. We, like the contemporaries of the prophet, have before our eyes and imprinted on our minds the images of suffering and of immense tragedies, often the fruit of irresponsible egotism. We also feel the weight of the disarray of so many men and women in the face of the suffering of the innocent and the clashes of humanity today. We need the help of the Lord to recover our confidence and joy of living. We should return to Him, who opens for us the portal of his heart, rich in goodness and mercy.
Today's rite can be considered to be a "liturgy of death"; it refers to Good Friday, when our rite will be fully completed. It is in Him, who "humbled himself making himself obedient unto death, even death on the Cross" (Phil 2,8) that we should die to ourselves to be reborn to eternal life.
5. Let us listen to the call that the Lord directs to us through the intense and austere rites and prayers of the liturgy of Ash Wednesday. Let us accept the call with the humble and confident attitude of the Psalmist: "Against you only have I sinned, and I have done what is evil in your sight". Again, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and steadfast spirit within" (cf. Ps 50).
May the Lenten season be for all a renewed experience of conversion and of deep reconciliation with God, with ourselves and with our brothers and sisters. May Our Lady of Sorrows obtain it for us. In our Lenten journey we contemplate her associated with the suffering and redemptive passion of her Son.
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