As the Church begins the holy season of Lent, Pope Francis celebrated Mass for Ash Wednesday, with the blessing and imposition of ashes.

In his homily, the Holy Father reflected on Lent as a journey of return to God and as an opportunity to deepen our love of our brothers and sisters.

God, said the Pope, is appealing to our hearts and our entire being, inviting us to Him.

“It is a time to reconsider the path we are taking,” he said, “to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends.”

From slavery to freedom

He urged Christians to evaluate the direction our lives are headed and how steadfastly we walk along our path toward God.

“The journey of Lent is an exodus from slavery to freedom,” he said.

As we progress, we will feel tempted to return to our old habits and illusions. But, noted the Pope, we can rediscover our way by looking to the Word of God, no matter how many times we stumble.

To the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Pope Francis said the first step of Lent involves returning to the Father, by accepting God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Confession.

“It is the Father’s forgiveness that always set us back on our feet,” he said.

Next, he said, we need to return to Jesus. Like the leper who returned to thank Him, we too “need Jesus’ healing. We need to present our wounds to Him and say: ‘Jesus, I am in your presence, with my sin, with my sorrows. You are the physician. You can set me free. Heal my heart’.”

Then, said the Pope, we are invited to return to the Holy Spirit.

The ashes sprinkled on our heads, he pointed out, remind us that we are dust. “Yet upon this dust of ours, God blew His Spirit of life.”

In heartfelt reconciliation

The Holy Father went on to note that our return journey to God is only possible because He “first journeyed to us.”

Because Jesus embraced our sin and death, “our journey then is about letting Him take us by the hand.”

Our response to God’s invitation, said the Pope, involves heartfelt reconciliation, “with the deeds and practices that express it.”

A descent in love

Finally, Pope Francis reminded us that Lent is the proper time both to journey toward God and toward our brothers and sisters.

“Lent is a humble descent both inwards and towards others,” he said. “It is about realizing that salvation is not an ascent to glory, but a descent in love.”

No matter how often we stumble, concluded the Pope, we can always turn to the Cross of Christ and contemplate in His wounds our own shortcomings and emptiness.

“By kissing those wounds, we will come to realize that there, in life’s most painful wounds, God awaits us with His infinite mercy.”