Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
This past weekend I had the privilege of attending our annual diocesan Catholic Men’s Conference at St. John’s University and presiding at the closing Mass in the Abbey Church. The conference has become an annual tradition for many fathers, sons, grandfathers and other men who want to start their Lenten observance on the right foot.
So, how about you? How are you observing Lent this year?
If you need to work on something in your own life during this 40-day season but haven’t made that commitment yet, there is still plenty of time to do it. Being a better person, a better parent, a better spouse or a better disciple of Christ takes a lot of hard work. But it’s worth it! And, with God’s help, it’s possible.
To help you, I’d like to share some things I preached about at Mass that day. The Gospel reading talked about Jesus going out into the desert to fast and pray for 40 days before his public ministry so he could come to know the Father’s will and carry it out faithfully. One could rightly say Jesus was fasting and listening — because, in addition to talking to God, an important part of prayer is listening for what God has to say to us.
God is always trying to communicate with us. We don’t have to ask for his attention — we have it, and we have his promise that he will never withhold it from us. The challenge for us isn’t getting God to listen to us; rather, it’s disciplining ourselves to listen to God.
For us Christians, the season of Lent is like a signal at a train crossing: It aims to help us avoid big trouble in our lives. It reminds us to stop, look and listen for signals indicating that our lives may not be going in the best direction. It is a time to acknowledge our sins and to repent. It’s a time to check the forward progress of our journey to the Promised Land and take stock of anything in our lives that is preventing us from following Jesus’ example of doing the Father’s will.
So what are some practical things we can do this Lent to get on the right track with our spiritual lives? Here are some suggestions based on the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving:
- Spend more time in prayer, listening attentively — like Jesus did — to what God wants for you.
- In addition to attending Sunday Mass, go to Mass once or more during the week.
- Participate in Lenten devotions, such as the Stations of the Cross.
- Go to the sacrament of confession, even if it has been a long time since you last did so. It’s a wonderful sacrament of mercy that helps us get right with God and with how we treat others.
- Discipline yourself by fasting, which is a form of penance that helps us turn away from sin and turn instead toward God.
- While we typically fast and abstain from certain foods, we also can fast from things that distract us from God and the needs of others.
- Spend extra time with your families.
- Change a bad habit in your life.
- Repair a broken relationship by forgiving someone who is hard to forgive — perhaps a family member, friend or co-worker who has wronged us.
- Participate in “almsgiving” and other charitable works that bring the love of Christ and a compassionate hand of support to those in need.
This Lent, take time to stop, look and listen. God wants us to live joyful lives in service to him and to others. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving can help us to discern his will for us so we can enter the joy of Easter as better Christian disciples.
May you and your loved ones have a blessed and holy Lenten season,
+Donald J. Kettler
Bishop of St. Cloud