Skip to content

John Paul II's Homily for Ash Wednesday

How External Gestures of Penance Have Value

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 25, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the homily John Paul II delivered during the Celebration of the Word at which he presided today, Ash Wednesday, in St. Peter's Basilica.

* * *

1. "Your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:4 and 6:18). These words of Christ are addressed to each one of us at the beginning of the Lenten journey. We begin it with the Imposition of Ashes, austere penitential gesture, so dear to the Christian tradition. It underlines man's awareness of himself as sinner before the majesty and holiness of God. At the same time, it manifests a willingness to accept and to translate into concrete choices one's adherence to the Gospel.

The formulas that accompany it are very eloquent. The first, taken from the Book of Genesis: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (see 3:19), recalls the present human condition placed under the sign of transience and limitation. The second takes up the evangelical words: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15), which are an urgent appeal to change one's life. Both formulas invite us to enter into Lent with an attitude of listening and sincere conversion.

2. The Gospel underlines that the Lord "sees in secret," that is, he scrutinizes the heart. The external gestures of penance have value if they are expressions of an interior attitude, if they manifest the firm determination to turn away from evil and walk on the path of goodness. Here is the profound meaning of Christian asceticism.

"Ascesis": the word itself evokes the image of rising to lofty ends. This necessarily entails sacrifices and renunciations. In fact, one must reduce the baggage to the essential so as not to be weighed down on the journey; to be ready to face any difficulty and to overcome all obstacles to reach the desired objective. To become genuine disciples of Christ, it is necessary to deny oneself, to take up one's cross every day, and to follow him (see Luke 9:23). It is the arduous path of holiness, which every baptized person is called to follow.

3. The Church has always indicated some useful means to advance on this path. First of all, humble and docile adherence to the will of God accompanied by incessant prayer; the penitential forms that are typical of the Christian tradition, such as abstinence, fasting, mortification and self-denial even of goods that are legitimate in themselves; concrete gestures of acceptance in relating to one's neighbor, which today's page of the Gospel evokes with the word "alms." All this is proposed again with greater intensity during the Lenten period, which represents, in this connection, an "intense time" of spiritual training and of generous service to brothers.

4. To this end, in the Message for Lent I wished to draw attention, in particular, to the difficult conditions in which so many children of the world find themselves, recalling the words of Christ: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me" (Matthew 18:5). Who, indeed, more than a helpless and fragile child has need to be defended and protected?

The problems that assail the world of children are many and complex. I very much hope that to these smallest brothers of ours, often abandoned to themselves, will be given the care that is due to them thanks also to our solidarity. It is a concrete way to translate our Lenten effort.

Dear Brothers and Sisters, with such sentiments we begin Lent, a journey of prayer, penance, and authentic Christian asceticism. May Mary, the Mother of Christ, accompany us. May her example and her intercession help us to proceed with joy toward Easter.

John Paul II


Vatican , VA
Pope John Paul II - Holy See, 661 869-1000



Ash Wednesday, Lent, Pope, Homily

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.