“Lent is the time for allowing one’s heart to be touched…” Pope Francis said at Mass on Ash Wednesday. “God does not tire, nor will he tire, of holding out his hand.” He encouraged us to pause, see, and return to the Father.

He offered suggestions of how to pause, including refraining from showing off, or from an attitude which gives rise to unproductive thoughts and self-pity. These lead us to forget our call to encounter others and share in their burdens. He urged an end to the desire “to control everything, know everything, destroy everything,” which stems from a lack of gratitude for our life and what we’ve been given. Lent is a good time for the “creative power of silence” in order to “leave behind the unrest and commotion that fill the soul with bitter feelings which never get us anywhere… Pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children, with grandparents, and time as a gift… time with God.” Francis warned about “haughty looks” and “fleeting and pejorative comments,” words stemming from a lack of “tenderness, compassion and reverence for the encounter with others, particularly those who are vulnerable, hurt and even immersed in sin and error.”

Francis urged us instead to see – to reflect on those actions which promote faith, hope and charity – to look upon the faces of the vulnerable and in need, like families who, despite hardship, still strive to make their homes “a school of love.” May we see the faces of children and youth, yearning for a future, the faces of the elderly reflecting “God’s wisdom at work,” and the faces of sick people and their carers, whose vulnerability reminds us of the value of every person. “See the remorseful faces of so many who try to repair their errors and mistakes, and who from their misfortune and suffering fight to transform their situations and move forward.” Finally, the Pope encouraged everyone to make time during Lent to “see and contemplate the face of Crucified Love… To see his face is an invitation filled with hope for this Lenten time, in order to defeat the demons of distrust, apathy and resignation.”

Pope Francis invited all to “return without fear to those outstretched, eager arms of your Father, who is rich in mercy, who awaits you. Return without fear, for this is the favorable time to come home.”

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