My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
Lent is here again. It is an invitation to join Jesus in the 40 days He spent in the desert preparing for his public ministry. So we also must prepare ourselves for the ministry of announcing the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we will celebrate this Easter. We must strengthen our hearts and develop our minds so that we can be effective ministers and evangelizers in the world today.
In his message for this Lent, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, gives us the theme, “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold.” (Mt 24:12) Lent essentially is a time when we need to strengthen our sense of love for God and our neighbor. Our Holy Father, in his message, warns us about false prophets, those who would lead women and men astray, charlatans as he says. “These false prophets can also be ‘charlatans,’ who offer easy and immediate solutions to suffering that soon prove utterly useless.” However, hearts warmed by prayer, penance and almsgiving will be up for the task of announcing the risen Christ when Easter comes.
Pope Francis uses a stunning image to describe the coldness that can envelop us, by saying, “In the description of hell, Dante Alighieri pictures the devil seated on a throne of ice, in frozen and loveless isolation.” We too sometimes can be frozen in our past sin and bad habits that do not allow us to enter into the spirit of Lent, which is to be truly warmed by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Our Lenten program always is clearly outlined in the Gospel. It is a time of increased prayer. It is a time of almsgiving that, as our Holy Father says, “…sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbour as a brother or sister.” And finally Pope Francis speaks of fasting which “weakens our tendency to violence, it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth.”
This program of Lent is simple and yet not easy to follow for most of us. We need to make our resolutions for Lent now. Perhaps we will pray more, attend Mass daily, share what we have in some kind of systematic way with others in need by giving to charities which can meet those in need on our behalf. And finally, by fasting we are allowed to recognize the Original Sin of Adam and Eve which came from their inability to abstain from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Somehow we must discipline ourselves, otherwise we will not be able to ward off our tendency toward evil and recognize our dependence on God.
Many of us remember the strict fast that we kept before Holy Communion from midnight on to the time reception, not even a drop of water could pass our lips so that we could be ready to receive the Eucharist. The lessening of our requirements of fasting perhaps has fooled us to think that we can always be ready for encountering the Lord without some self-reflection, without some self-sacrifice. Lent is the time that we can recognize that our discipline can lead us closer to God and to others.
I invite you to remember that Reconciliation Monday on the Monday of Holy Week, March 26, is a time that we can make our Easter duty and recognize the sinfulness in our lives, preparing us for the joy of Easter. Our Holy Father also has recommended that each diocese celebrate in at least one place “24-hours for the Lord” which is a time Eucharistic Adoration will continue for 24 hours with the opportunity for reconciliation during that time. Here in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens we will announce the locations where we will celebrate “24-hours for the Lord” on Friday, March 9, and Saturday, March 10.
Lent is certainly a time when we put out into the deep. It is a time when we hold ourselves accountable for our adherence to the Gospel, especially the Gospel message of Lent during which time we dedicate ourselves to prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Join me in asking the Lord to bless our efforts this Lent and bring all observances to a safe conclusion at this Easter.