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Pope Francis' Ash Wednesday message: 'Lent is a time for penance and charity'

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March 5 is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Catholic Lenten Season, and during his General Audience address, Pope Francis declared “Lent as a time for penance and charity” according to Vatican News.

Catholics worldwide flocked to church to receive the mark of the cross on the forehead for Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. The Church asks the faithful to sacrifice, pray more and help others during these 40 days that lead to Holy Week, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Pope Francis expounded upon the Catholic Church’s Lenten message in his General Audience on Ash Wednesday and emphasized the “essential elements” of Lent.

...Giving thanks to God for the mystery of his crucified love, true faith, conversion, and an opening of the heart to our brothers.

Pope Francis asked Catholics to be Christ-like during Lent and stressed the importance of “spiritual renewal” in a world where “spiritual and material poverty” are on an incline.

This journey of spiritual renewal in the footsteps of Christ also calls us to acknowledge and respond to the growing spiritual and material poverty in our midst.

Specifically, it means consciously resisting the pressure of a culture which thinks it can do without God, where parents no longer teach their children to pray, where violence, poverty and social decay are taken for granted.

Lent doesn’t have to be a time of complete sacrifice for 40 days, but rather a diligent effort to pray more, attend Mass more, go to confession, give more and if you slip up a sacrifice, try again to make an effort, but not broadcast what you have done for all to hear, as Ash Wednesday’s Gospel reading states.

Jesus said to his disciples:

'Take care not to perform righteous deeds

in order that people may see them;

otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.

When you give alms,

do not blow a trumpet before you,

as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets

to win the praise of others.

Amen, I say to you,

they have received their reward.

But when you give alms,

do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,

so that your almsgiving may be secret.

And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

When you pray,

do not be like the hypocrites,

who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners

so that others may see them.

Amen, I say to you,

they have received their reward.

But when you pray, go to your inner room,

close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.

And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

When you fast,

do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.

They neglect their appearance,

so that they may appear to others to be fasting.

Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.

But when you fast,

anoint your head and wash your face,

so that you may not appear to be fasting,

except to your Father who is hidden.

And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.'

~Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18

Be creative in your Lenten endeavors. If money is scarce, give blood or your time. Incorporate prayer into your daily routine and instead of giving up chocolate, try to be a better listener to your family and friends, or make an attempt to not get frustrated while driving. Only you and God need be aware of your promises made on Ash Wednesday.

© Deirdre Haggerty, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior written permission and consent from the author or Clarity Digital Group LLC, DBA more Catholic information and news from the author, click subscribe or follow Deirdre on Twitter, like her on Facebook, read her blog or email her any comments or questions.