“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven”. (Matthew 6:1). Today’s Gospel, which commemorates the Ash Wednesday, the first day of Easter. It can be found in the famous “Sermon on the Mount”, that Jesus hold in the region of Galilee. Jesus thus preaches before a multitude of people and his disciples in a place that rises north of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum.
Moreover, according to tradition, it was on this mountain that took place the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, which fed the crowds who had come to listen to the Master. Today, on the top of this hill we can visit an octagonal church, which is called the Church of the Beatitudes, from where pilgrims can admire the breathtaking view of the Lake Tiberias, the Jordan River and Mount Hermon.
The image of the desert
The Rite of Ashes that we celebrate today sets the beginning of the journey of penance and conversion of Lent. For Christians around the world, Lent is a period of time marked by practices such as fasting, prayers and an increased attention to charity. The Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record the days Jesus spent in the desert and the casting out of the devil. “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.” (Matthew 4:11).
The desert that welcomes Jesus for all those days of fasting is the desert of Judea, or Judah, which is located east of Jerusalem and goes down to the Dead Sea. The desert of Judah, according to tradition, is also the background of the parable of the Good Samaritan. “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers.” (Luke, 10:30). John the Baptist himself, “a voice of one crying out in the wilderness,” preached the coming of Christ in this vast bare and desolate place.
Lent in the Holy Land
During the period of Lent, the Catholics in the Holy Land perform special rites, on the footsteps of Jesus during his stay in Jerusalem. This Saturday, for example, there will be a solemn procession at the Holy Sepulchre for the entrance of the Patriarch and, in the evening, the Father Custos will lead the vigil in the Chapel of the Apparition, followed by the Mass at the Calvary. .
Other stops that will bring the faithful together during this period will be: the altar of Mary Magdalene, the Sanctuary of Dominus flevit, the Church of St. Joseph, the Basilica of the Agony in Gethsemane, the Mass at the tomb of Lazarus and many other places in the Holy Land. Therefore, living the Lent in the land where Christ used to spend his life and taught means to be accompanied on an intense journey. This “pilgrimage” will culminate in the Easter of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The appeal of Pope at the beginning of Lent
This Ash Wednesday is a particularly sensitive time for the whole world. The Holy Land too is embracing Pope Francis, who made a heartfelt appeal to all, believers and non-believers alike, last Wednesday. “I have a great sorrow in my heart for the worsening situation in Ukraine. I pray to all the parties involved that they refrain from any action that will cause even more suffering to the populations, destabilizing coexistence between nations and discrediting international law.”
With these words, the Holy Father encourages us to respond to violence “with the weapons of God”, the fasting and the prayer, so that “the Queen of Peace may preserve the world from the insanity of war”. The Holy Land will pray also for this.