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“Life is not a play,” Pope says during Ash Wednesday Mass

Pope Francis Ash Wednesday February 14 2024 Saint Sabina in Rome

TIZIANA FABI | AFP

I.Media - published on 02/14/24

Pope Francis invited the faithful to abandon "masks" and pretense, to rid themselves of superficiality and return to God with humility, focusing on essentials.

“Life is not a play,” declared Pope Francis in his homily at the Ash Wednesday mass on February 14, 2024. In the Basilica of Santa Sabina, on Rome’s Aventine hill, he urged the faithful to cultivate a “secret place” during this Lenten season, in order to take care of their inner lives and resist the superficiality of the world.

A time to return to God’s love, essentials

The season of Lent, which opens on Ash Wednesday and closes with the celebration of Easter — this year on March 31 — is an invitation to “journey from the outside in,” said the Pope in his lengthy homily. Acting as a “bath of purification and stripping away,” this period, he insisted, should spur Christians to live out their relationship with God not superficially as “a frame without an image,” but by going “to the original core” of their heart and person.

To this end, the pontiff urged us to shed the “masks” we often wear to present ourselves as “better than we are.” The Lenten season, he declared, must bring us down from the “stage of make-believe” on which we tend to play, because “life is not a play.”

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Pope Francis sprinkles Master of Pontifical Liturgical Ceremonies, Italian priest Guido Marini with ashes during Ash Wednesday mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on February 17, 2021.

The opening of this time of humility, Pope Francis explained, is symbolized by the ashes that are placed on the head of every Catholic on Ash Wednesday. This gesture brings us back to “the dust that we are, so that it may not be scattered by the impetuous winds of life and may not dissolve in the abyss of death.” It teaches, he stressed, that the vanity of appearances makes us “empty and arid,” while humility makes us aware of God’s “eternal love”.

The Pope added that almsgiving, prayer, and fasting—the three efforts required of Christians during Lent—”cannot be reduced to outward practices, but are ways that lead us back to the heart, to the essentials of Christian life.”

A time to live “in secret”

To this end, the pontiff insists on the importance of living this period “in secret.” He explains: “Without realizing it, we find ourselves no longer having a secret place in which to stop and take care of ourselves, immersed in a world where everything, including our most intimate emotions and feelings, must become ‘social.'”

Denouncing a world where “everything has to be exposed, exhibited, given over to the chatter of the moment,” the Pope encouraged the inward-looking effort proposed by Lent. He encouraged the practice of silent adoration, lamenting that Christians have somewhat lost the habit of this spiritual time.

“Let us not be afraid to strip ourselves of worldly finery and return to the heart, to what is essential,” insisted Pope Francis, giving the example of St. Francis, who publicly stripped off his fine clothes in Assisi before embracing “the Father in Heaven with all his being.”

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LentPope FrancisRome
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