Dear Diocesan Family!
In just a few short days we will enter into the season of Lent. It is a time when we are asked to leave the cares and concerns of the world behind and concentrate instead on the passion and death of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We are familiar with the disciplines and practices of Lent: ashes, abstinence and fasting, almsgiving and the familiar Lenten services that the church offers to us. Yet Lent isn’t just a gloomy or dreary time if we look at it from another prospective. It can also be a time of challenge and change for our lives. It is meant to be a time of increased spiritual growth and sacrifice for others. I quote from a pamphlet entitled, “You are my friends” written by M. Basil Pennington OCSO. He quotes from the book of Isaiah with these words: “This is the fasting I wish … ” Isaiah 58:6
“As it is Lent, many of us give thought to fasting, and some may have even been doing it. Some of us find reasons of our own to fast during Lent: it is good for health, it feels good, it takes off some of those unwanted pounds, etc. But why does God want us to fast? God has a very different idea about fasting than most of us, a much broader one. He tells us through the prophet Isaiah: ‘This is the fasting I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and homeless; clothing the naked…‘ Yes, the Lord favors our fasting from food, just as He did for forty days in the desert, when it makes’ us more free from our demanding appetites, when it helps us to grow in self-control. But even more, when it helps us to share with others in need. He wants us to fast from anything that oppresses – ourselves or others. God, our Friend, wants us to be free. And He wants us to care for one another’s well-being, for we are all His friends.”
We know that in many instances, even amongst “the churched,” our adherence to Lenten practices has waned. We have forgotten that in order to get to the empty tomb on Easter Sunday, we must also walk the road toCalvarywith our Lord. We certainly want the crown of glory, but would rather pass on the crown of thorns. We see the signs of sinfulness and shame around us in the headlines of the morning paper and in the lead story on the evening news. Yet Christ wants us to find freedom and well-being in Him.
I hope and pray that as we walk this Lenten journey, we may put aside those things of the world that drag us down. May we look for new opportunities not only to fast, but to exemplify those traits of Christ by sharing, feeding, sheltering, healing and loving those around us. By freeing others with our kind words and actions, we ourselves find those things that bind us released and freed.
Let us also remember to find ourselves in the Lord’s presence during this Holy Season of Lent. Participate in Lenten devotions. Come and receive the sacrament of penance at a penitential service or at general confession prior to mass. Come to church a few minutes early and read the examination of conscience in the front of the pew book. Find time to read Scripture and to go away to a quiet place so that you can spend time in contemplation and prayer. All these will lift the burden of sin from our shoulders and draw us closer to Him.
May this Lenten Journey uplift you and make you whole. May we walk faithfully with Christ throughout these forty days.
Faithfully in Christ — Bishop John