I present to you most of the Pope’s homily for Ash Wednesday. Emphasis added to draw attention to some excellent ideas or turns of phrase.

Ash Wednesday 2010.jpg

With this moving invocation, taken from the Book of
Wisdom (cf 11:23-26), the liturgy introduces the Eucharistic celebration of Ash
Wednesday. They are words that, in some way, open the whole Lenten journey,
placing as their foundation the omnipotence of the love of God, his absolute
lordship over every creature, which is translated in infinite indulgence,
animated by a constant and universal will to live. In fact, to forgive someone
is equivalent to saying: I do not want you to die, but that you live; I always
and only want your good

This absolute certainty sustained Jesus during the 40
days transpired in the desert of Judea, after the baptism received from John in
the Jordan. This long time of silence and fasting was for him a complete
to the Father and to his plan of love; it was a
“baptism,” that is, an “immersion” in his will, and in this
sense, an anticipation of the Passion and the Cross. To go into the desert and
to stay there a long time, alone, meant to be willingly exposed to the assaults
of the enemy, the tempter who made Adam fall and through whose envy death
entered the world (cf Wisdom 2:24); it meant engaging in open battle with him,
defying him with no other weapons than limitless confidence in the omnipotent
love of the Father. Your love suffices me, my food is to do your will (cf John
4:34): This conviction dwelt in the mind and heart of Jesus during that
“Lent” of his. It was not an act of pride, a titanic enterprise, but
a decision of humility, consistent with the Incarnation and the Baptism in the
Jordan, in the same line of obedience to the merciful love of the Father, who
“so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16).

The Lord
did all this for us. He did it to save us and, at the same time, to show us the
way to follow him. Salvation, in fact, is a gift, it is God’s grace, but to
have effect in my existence it requires my consent, an acceptance demonstrated
in deeds, that is, in the will to live like Jesus, to walk after him. To follow
Jesus in the Lenten desert is, hence, the condition necessary to participate in
his Easter, in his “exodus.
” Adam was expelled from the earthly
Paradise, symbol of communion with God; now, to return to that communion and,
therefore, to true life, it is necessary to traverse the desert, the test of
faith. Not alone, but with Jesus! He — as always — has preceded us and has
already conquered in the battle against the spirit of evil
. This is the meaning
of Lent
, liturgical time that every year invites us to renew the choice to follow
Christ on the path of humility to participate in his victory over sin and

Understood in this perspective also is the penitential sign of the
ashes, which are imposed on the head of those who begin with good will the
Lenten journey. It is essentially a gesture of humility, which means: I
recognize myself for what I am, a frail creature, made of earth and destined to
the earth, but also made in the image of God and destined to him
. Dust, yes,
but loved, molded by love
, animated by his vital breath, capable of recognizing
his voice and of responding to him; free and, because of this, also capable of
disobeying him, yielding to the temptation of pride and self-sufficiency. This
is sin, the mortal sickness that soon entered to contaminate the blessed earth
that is the human being
. Created in the image of the Holy and Righteous One,
man lost his own innocence and he can now return to be righteous only thanks to
the righteousness of God, the righteousness of love that — as St. Paul writes
—  was manifested “through faith in Jesus Christ” (Romans
3:22). From these words of the Apostle I took my inspiration for my Message,
addressed to all the faithful on the occasion of this Lent: a reflection on the
theme of righteousness in the light of the Sacred Scriptures and of its
fulfillment in Christ.

Also very present in the biblical readings of Ash
Wednesday is the theme of righteousness. First of all, the page of the prophet
Joel and the Responsorial Psalm — the Miserere — form a penitential diptych,
which manifests how at the origin of all material and social injustice is what
the Bible calls “iniquity,” that is, sin, which consists essentially
in a disobedience to God, namely, a lack of love. “For I know my
transgressions, / and my sin is ever before me. / Against thee, thee only, have
I sinned, / and done that which is evil in thy sight” (Psalm 51 (50):
3-4). The first act of righteousness, therefore, is to recognize one’s own
iniquity, it is to recognize that it is rooted in the “heart,” in the
very center of the human person
. “Fasting,” “weeping”,
“mourning” (cf. Joel 2:12) and every penitential expression has value
in the eyes of God only if it is the sign of truly repentant hearts. Also the
Gospel, taken from the “Sermon on the Mount,” insists on the need to
practice proper “righteousness” — almsgiving, prayer and fasting —
not before men but only in the eyes of God, who “sees in secret” (cf
Matthew 6:1-6.16-18). The true “recompense” is not others’
admiration, but friendship with God and the grace that derives from it, a grace
that gives strength to do good, to love also the one who does not deserve it,
to forgive those who have offended us.
Dear brothers
and sisters, Lent lengthens our horizon, it orients us to eternal life. On this
earth we are on pilgrimage, “[f]or here we have no lasting city, but we
seek the city which is to come,” says the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews
13:14). Lent makes us understand the relativity of the goods of this earth and
thus makes us capable of the necessary self-denials, free to do good
. Let us
open the earth to the light of heaven, to the presence of God in our midst.