Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season are just a few short days away. Lent is one of my favorite times of the year because it is an opportunity for me, and for all of us, to hit our spiritual “reset” buttons. These 40 days are a time for us to refocus on “getting right” with God and others, and to convert our hearts and minds to better reflect the love of Christ.
The traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving help us to stay on this path of conversion as we look ahead to celebrating the holy days of the Easter Triduum.
Through prayer and reading Scripture, we encounter Christ and get to know him and his will for our lives more deeply. Over the next several weeks, I encourage you to set aside extra time for prayer and to reflect on the daily Scripture readings. Talk to God honestly about your joys and sorrows and any challenges you are facing in your life. Then, listen with an open heart: What might God be asking you to do, or to change, in your life?
Fasting during Lent includes abstaining from meat on Fridays, and many of us give up something extra as well in the hope that this discipline of self-denial will help us to focus more on Christ. But the Church also encourages us to practice fasting in other ways as well — from behaviors and practices that aren’t Christ-like and that separate us from others. Lent also is an opportunity to practice self-denial by showing love and unselfish generosity to others. What is something you can do over the next 40 days for the benefit of a family member, friend or neighbor?
When it comes to almsgiving, or practicing charity, I am reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan — the story that Jesus tells in response to the question: “Who is my neighbor?” You know the story: Robbers attack a man walking along a road and leave him for dead. First a priest, and then a Levite pass by. It is a Samaritan — someone considered an enemy — who stops to help the man, bandage his wounds and pay for his care at the inn. Jesus wants us to know that our neighbor is anyone we encounter who needs our care, no matter who they are or where they are from.
A good way to practice almsgiving is to participate in Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program, which helps us to meet neighbors from different countries around the world, learn more about their lives, and support them in their life’s journey. Rice Bowl is a good way to practice all three Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. You can read more about the program in this special Lenten section of The Visitor.
During this penitential season, I also want to encourage you to participate in the healing sacrament of reconciliation as a way of experiencing God’s mercy and forgiveness for those times we have strayed from the right path. Once again this year, on Friday, March 2, our diocese will be celebrating a special Festival of Forgiveness. On this day the sacrament of reconciliation will be available at designated churches for a 12-hour period. Whether you participate in the sacrament regularly or have been away from it for a long time, you will be welcomed with mercy and forgiveness, not judgment. You will hear more about this day in your parishes, or you can read more about it on our diocesan website: stcdio.org.
As we renew our baptismal promises during these Lenten days, let us also pray for those who are preparing for baptism and full initiation into the Church at the Easter Vigil. If we faithfully commit ourselves to prayer, fasting and charity, we will grow closer to the Lord as well as our neighbors, here at home and around the world.
May you have a blessed Lenten season,
+Bishop Donald Kettler