Pope: Lent breathes life into world asphyxiated by sin

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Junno Arocho Esteves

ROME (CNS) — Lent is a time to receive God’s breath of life,
a breath that saves
humanity from suffocating
under the weight of selfishness, indifference and piety devoid of
sincerity, Pope Francis said.

“Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia born of
relationships that exclude, that try to find God while avoiding the wounds of
Christ present in the wounds of his brothers and sisters,” the pope said March 1 during an
Ash Wednesday Mass.

Francis celebrated the Mass after making the traditional Ash Wednesday
procession from the Benedictine monastery of St. Anselm to the Dominican-run Basilica of Santa Sabina on Rome’s Aventine Hill.

After receiving ashes on top of his head from Cardinal Jozef
Tomko, titular cardinal of the basilica, the pope distributed ashes to the
cardinals, his closest aides, some Benedictines and Dominicans.

He also distributed ashes to a family and to two members of
the Pontifical Academy for Martyrs, which promotes the traditional Lenten
“station church” pilgrimage in Rome.  

he said, is a time to say “no” to “all those forms of
spirituality that reduce the faith to a ghetto culture, a culture of

The church’s Lenten journey toward the celebration of
Christ’s passion, death and resurrection is made on a road “leading from
slavery to freedom” and “from suffering to joy,” he said. “Lent
is a path: It leads to the triumph of mercy over all that would crush us or
reduce us to something unworthy of our dignity as God’s children.”

The ashes, while a symbol of humanity’s origin from the earth,
the pope said, is also a reminder that God breathes new life into people in order to save them
from the suffocation of “petty ambition” and “silent

“The breath of God’s life sets us free from the asphyxia that so
often we fail to notice
or become so used to that it seems normal, even when its effects are
felt,” the pope said.

The Lenten season, he continued, is a “time for saying
no” to the asphyxia caused by superficial and simplistic analyses that “fail to grasp
the complexity of problems” of those who suffer most.

“Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia of a prayer
that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of
a fasting that makes us feel good,” the pope said.

Instead, Pope Francis said, Lent is a time for Christians to remember God’s mercy and
“not the time to rend our garments before evil but rather make room in our
life for the good we are able to do.”

“Lent is the time to start breathing again. It is the
time to open our hearts to the breath of the One capable of turning our dust
into humanity,” the pope said.

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