Pope Francis dedicated his Ash Wednesday catechesis to the Lenten journey of forty days that leads to Easter, and called on us never to passively accept the sad realities that surround us.
'The awareness of the wonders that the Lord carried out for our salvation should lead our minds and hearts to gratitude to God,' he said, and added, 'Fully living out our Baptism – and this is the second invitation – means not becoming inured to the situations of degradation and poverty that we encounter when walking the streets of our cities and towns.
'There is the risk of passively accepting certain types of behaviour and of not marvelling at the sad realities that surround us. We grow accustomed to violence, as if it were a normal part of our daily news; we get used to seeing our brothers and sisters sleeping in the streets, as they have no roof to shelter them.
'We are used to refugees who search of freedom and dignity, but are not received as they should be. We get used to living in a society that claims to be able to do without God, in which parents do not teach their children how to pray or how to make the sign of the Cross. This inurement to forms of behaviour that are not Christian, that are the easy way, anaesthetise the heart!'
He asked the faithful present, 'Do your children know how to make the sign of the Cross? Do they know how to pray the Our Father or the Hail Mary?'
Francis explained that Lent comes to us 'as a Providential moment for changing our route, for recovering our capacity to react when faced with the realities of evil that always challenge us. Lent should be lived as a time of conversion, of renewal at personal and community levels by drawing closer to God and through trusting adhesion to the Gospel. In this way, we are able to look upon our brothers and their needs with new eyes.'
The Pope remarked that this moment is favourable for converting to love for one's neighbour; a love that assumes the gratitude and mercy of the Lord Who made himself poor so that by his poverty we might become rich, and invited all to 'invoke with particular trust the protection and help of the Virgin Mary, so that she, the first believer in Christ, might accompany us in days of intense and penitential prayer, to allow us to celebrate, purified and renewed in spirit, the great Paschal mystery of her Son.'
Do not get used to behaviour that anaesthetises the heart (Vatican Information Service)
Pope Francis celebrates Ash Wednesday Mass (Vatican Radio)
Lent comes ‘to reawaken us,’ says Pope Francis (The Catholic Herald)
Pope leaves for Lenten retreat (The Manila Bulletin)
Eucharist on Ash Wednesday - Pope Francis presides the Lenten Station at St. Anselm Basilica, followed by Holy Eucharist for Ash Wednesday at St Sabina Basilica in Roma (Vatican/YouTube)