Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ Jesus: When you and I were baptized, not only were we born again of water and the Holy Spirit, but also we began to share God’s own life (divine grace) and to embrace His call to holiness.
Being holy means to live the way Jesus Christ, God’s only-begotten Son, lived, loving God and loving others. The commitment we made at baptism continues throughout our lives.
Each year, we are given a new opportunity the holy season of Lent to re-examine our commitment and to become renewed in living out this basic call to holiness. Today marks the beginning of Lent, with the Sacred Liturgy of Ash Wednesday. During this 40-day period, often called the Church’s annual retreat, those desiring baptism complete their final preparations and those already baptized deepen their union with Christ and their commitment to live in holiness.
The Gospel proclaimed on Ash Wednesday outlines for us the “three works of Lent” by which we re-examine our commitment and renew our willingness to live in holiness of life: prayer, penance or fasting, and almsgiving or deeds of mercy.
I urge us to pray faithfully each day throughout Lent both as individuals and as a family at home and as members of God’s family in the liturgy and other devotions at church. Participating in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, daily if possible; making the Stations of the Cross; praying the Rosary, including the new Mysteries of Light; reflecting on God’s Living Word, particularly the assigned Scripture readings for each day, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession): these are a number of ways by which we pray during Lent.
I urge us as well to perform suitable acts of penance, including fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. This kind of self-denial strengthens us to overcome “…the temptation towards selfishness which always lurks within the human heart” (Pope John Paul II, Message for Lent 2003, n. 2). Freed from selfishness, we can more readily reach out to our sisters and brothers in need through deeds of mercy or almsgiving.
In this year’s Lenten message to us, our Holy Father summarizes so well these three basic “works of Lent.” “…Lent offers us the practical and effective weapons of fasting and almsgiving as a means of combating an excessive attachment to money. Giving not only from our abundance, but sacrificing something more in order to give to the needy, fosters that self-denial which is essential to authentic Christian living. Strengthened by constant prayer, the baptized reveal the priority which they have given to God in their lives” (Ibid).
Yes, through the prayer, penance and almsgiving of this Lent, each of us can re-examine more clearly and renew more deeply our baptismal commitment. Moreover, during this season of increased prayer and penance, we continue to storm heaven for a peaceful resolution to the crises in our world, for divine guidance for our leaders and for safety for all those called to keep the peace. Renewed in mind, heart and will, we become equipped and strengthened to live all year long as true disciples of Jesus Christ, loving God and loving others through genuine holiness of life.
As you and I together make this annual Lenten retreat, I pray that Mary, Mother of the Church, and St. Thomas More and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, our patrons, will accompany us by their intercession before the God of all holiness and truth.
Faithfully in Christ,
Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde
Bishop of Arlington, Virginia
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)