Our observance of Lent this year begins Wednesday, Feb. 22. Those of us who come to celebrate the Eucharist and receive the blessed ashes on Ash Wednesday will hear these words from St. Paul, “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” An acceptable time for what? The 40 days of Lent are a very acceptable time to be reconciled to God and to one another. Even though it may be hard to admit, we all know that we are sinners and in need of conversion. As we receive those blessed ashes, we will be reminded that this is the time to “repent, and believe in the gospel.”
In our Catholic tradition there are three traditional ways we are invited to observe Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We pray to draw closer to God and to strengthen our relationship with his church and one another. We read the Scriptures to ponder the good news of our God’s great love and eagerness to heal us of all our ills. We fast from food, drink and other attachments that keep us more centered on ourselves, our own wants, our own agenda. We pray that the fasting will open our hearts to those who have no choice but to fast because they have so little. Through almsgiving we practice the stewardship to which all disciples of Jesus are called whereby we share our time, treasure and talent with others. For most of us almsgiving involves sharing some of our financial resources with the poor and needy. But it also provides us with an opportunity to share our time through community service, visits to the sick and hospitality to the stranger.
The Lenten fast is no longer rigorous by obligation, but hopefully it will involve for each one of us a significant effort to let go of some of those wants which over time we begin to consider needs. The Lenten fast from food is obligatory for adults under 59 only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Abstinence from meat is expected every Friday in the Lenten season. But fasting from activities that delight us like television or movies, games of chance, favored foods or drinks, or even time on the Internet can open the doorway to more time for prayer or charitable activities at church or in the larger community.
When all is said and done, all these Lenten activities are intended to help us renew the grace of Baptism in our daily lives. Yes, it is a time when we acknowledge our need to be forgiven our sins and draw closer to the Lord. But this will only happen if we change some of our behaviors and thereby change our hearts and minds as followers of Jesus Christ. We remember the day we were baptized into the death of Jesus Christ, when we died to all sin and evil and began a new life of grace in Christ.
Here in the archdiocese many of our people will be participating in the Lenten program which I recommended as a result of the advice of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, Living the Eucharist. This program, produced by the Paulist Fathers, provides all of us with an opportunity for a truly spiritual journey through the season of Lent. Booklets have been made available for all our people. In many parishes, small group sharing sessions will take place each week where fellow Catholics can come together and ponder the weekly messages, which hopefully will draw us closer together in our Eucharistic celebrations and in our renewed commitment to bring what we experienced at Eucharist into the world in which we live. In the new Roman Missal, Pope Benedict XVI added some new words of dismissal which many of us are using at the end of Mass, “Go and announce the gospel of the Lord.” That is the mission of every baptized Catholic, namely, to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the world in which we live.
Throughout the 40 days of Lent we are mindful of those who are preparing themselves to receive the Easter sacraments on Holy Saturday night. As they embrace the truths and values of the Christian life, their decision for Christ inspires us to renew our own commitment to be more generous and faithful Catholic people. New life in any family lifts the spirits of all the relatives and friends. It is the same in the church. When these good sisters and brothers are anointed with the Holy Spirit through Baptism and Confirmation, we ourselves delight in their sacramental embrace by the Lord and remember that we too were once transformed by that same loving touch as we began our own journey of faith.
This Lent I shall be leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with more than 90 pilgrims from across the archdiocese. I’ve made one other pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Time and time again I was reminded by our guide that after the experience of the pilgrimage I would never again read the Scriptures in the same old way. Memories of the places where Jesus walked and talked would always make the Word of God more vivid and meaningful. That has been true. I am hopeful that this pilgrimage will strengthen the faith of all the pilgrims, bond us more closely together and make our celebrations of the Eucharist truly living experiences when we return home to worship in our parish churches with all of you.
You already know that just prior to Lent each household here in the archdiocese is being asked to make a sacrificial offering for the support of the ministries of our Catholic community across western Oregon. This 2012 Archbishop’s Catholic Appeal (ACA) is very important for so many of the ministries of our church. Many of you will be making pledges or beginning payment on them in the season of Lent. The ACA is an important vehicle whereby we all become coworkers in serving the many real needs of people all across western Oregon. As you give some thought to how you will observe this year’s Lenten season, I ask you to include the archdiocesan church among those who will be blessed by your sacrificial gifts.
The Lenten season culminates in Holy Week. Lent is a grand and splendid preparation for the Easter Triduum, the three days when we celebrate the paschal mystery, the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Mark your calendars now so that you are free to attend the major liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, April 5-8. With good planning, you can eliminate some of the conflicts that might otherwise occur. Lent without Easter falls flat. Lent with the culminating celebrations of Easter can make all the difference in our efforts to live the Eucharist in our daily lives.
All of you will be uppermost in my prayers through these Lenten days. Yes, Lent is our acceptable time, a time for grace, for conversion, for renewal, for living the Eucharist together.