My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Lent is nearly upon us. It begins with a simple mark of ashes on our forehead and a reminder of our own mortality. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)
Lent 2021 is a severely challenging time to maintain a life of grace. Perhaps the most challenging ever. A time that leaves us searching for peace and realizing how much our faith matters.
Fortunately, the Church has gifted us with a ritual that centers us in God’s love and mercy. Grounded in a reality that helps us to orient our hearts to God, we are reminded of our inevitable physical death and that our time here is God’s, not our own. This year, because of the pandemic, ashes will be sprinkled on the head, making the ritual that much more meaningful.
Last month I spoke to you about sharing our own brokenness with God, allowing Him to transform and illuminate our brokenness as a witness for others. The wearing of ashes is another example of witnessing God’s power in our lives.
Lent is about humility. The humility of dust. The ego wants to set us apart from others, yet we are the same — male or female; conservative or liberal; young or old; regardless of color — we all are God’s creation. Created from dust.
We are part of creation but distinctly separate — we were made in the image and likeness of God. We are His creation. It is for this reason that God invites us into union with Him. Avoiding this truth can lead us toward sin. As Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen pointed out, “There is only one thing in the world that is definitely and absolutely your own, and that is your will.” It is up to us how we will respond to this invitation.
Our Lenten journey is about preparing ourselves to stand at the foot of the cross on Good Friday in order to reap the ultimate reward of Easter Sunday. We can prepare ourselves in a number of ways.
We can begin by renewing our relationship with God by opening ourselves to the gifts of the Holy Spirit through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We are all wounded by our own sins and the hurt they may have caused others. Sin is a heavy burden on each of us. Jesus wants to heal our wounds. He wants to give us a new beginning.
This call goes out to those who may have been away from the Sacrament or the Church for a while. If you have been away, Lent is a wonderful time to come home to the Church. Lent is calling you home to a new beginning in your life of faith — to restore sanctifying grace to your life.
The forgiveness of sins is one of the most merciful missions Jesus entrusted to the apostles and their successors. We, the priests of this diocese, want to assist the faithful with tenderness and understanding in this wonderful Sacrament, to make them feel the Good Shepherd‘s love. Please hear Jesus’s call this Lenten season and come to have your burdens lifted in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Another way that we can prepare ourselves is to put our faith into action. Somewhere within the four counties that make up our Diocese, there is an unemployed father or mother struggling to feed their family; somewhere there is an expectant mother faced with the decision of her life and the life of her unborn child; somewhere, unseen to most of us, is an elderly person whose loneliness is calling to us — and we will answer that call, thanks to your kindness and compassion.
During these turbulent times it helps to remind ourselves of the Church as a community of faith — a living missionary body. This has been a more difficult year than most. Thankfully, your continued support of the Annual Catholic Appeal has helped the ministries of the diocese reach those who might otherwise be left in crisis, unnoticed in their time of need. Your generosity is a lifesaver for the many neighbors you will never meet.
Your sacrifice and faithful service to one another is a blessing. I thank everyone who so generously support, volunteer, and help the many ministries in the Diocese. All of them work so hard to restore dignity in the lives of our brothers and sisters who may be hungry, suffering or without a roof over their head.
I pray, that this year, as you prepare to receive ashes, you bring your whole self to God, giving Him your brokenness to transform. Focus not on the death that the ash represents, rather focus on the new life, the eternal life that God wants us to share with Him.
Sincerely yours in Christ’s mercy,