by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Please pray for the people of Ukraine as well as for wisdom for world leaders to protect the rights of sovereign nations from being victims of unjust aggression by a neighboring state seeking to expand borders and power.
This current threat to world peace coming on the heels of the tragic consequences of the Covid pandemic has made us more aware of the fragility of life as well as our own vulnerability to many forces that are beyond our control.
Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season always challenge us to reflect upon what is the foundation for our hope. Ash Wednesday reminds us that the world as we know it is passing away. Only our relationship with God endures, and it is the victory of Jesus over sin and death that must be the source of our hope.
The church requirements for fast and abstinence are very minimal; it is therefore even more important that we observe them conscientiously. The church requires Catholics: 1) on all the Fridays of Lent to abstain from meat for those over the age of 14; and 2) to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday for those age 18 thru 59. It is important that we unite with our fellow Catholics for these minimal common penitential practices.
I encourage every member of the archdiocese to make some additional personal commitments for prayer and fasting. Many Catholics commit to participating in daily Mass as often as possible through Lent. Others commit to the daily praying of the rosary; daily meditation on the Bible, particularly the Gospels; a weekly hour of eucharistic adoration; a weekly praying of the Stations of the Cross; or some other additional practice of prayer throughout the Lenten season.
It is also a good practice to fast additional days throughout Lent from food in general, or particular types of food. Fasting is not restricted just to food. It could also include fasting from television, streaming, Facebook, the internet, video games, sports, Netflix, etc.
I encourage you to reflect upon what or to whom do you turn when you feel stressed, anxious or just seeking comfort. What do you prefer doing rather than spending additional time in prayer? This is a good means to identify idols in your life — namely, attachments to things, experiences, pleasures or relationships that you have allowed to become more important than spending time with God.
We cannot really appreciate the importance of Jesus as our redeemer and savior, if we do not recognize the presence of sin in our lives. If we do not perceive ourselves to be a sinner, then we have no need for Jesus, no need for a redeemer.
If we do not already have the habit of doing a daily examination of conscience, Lent is the perfect time to initiate this practice. Typically, an examination of conscience begins with a reflection on all the blessings of the day, allowing ourselves to grow in gratitude for God’s abundant gifts.
Next, we need to prayerfully ponder how we responded to God’s graces and our failure to bring his love and the hope of his Gospel to others. Where have we failed to be an instrument of God’s love to those in our families, friends, co-workers, etc.? Pondering these questions will help us recognize the idols in our lives. What are our unhealthy attachments or even addictions?
Receiving the sacrament of reconciliation or penance during Lent is a must for a devout Catholic. Sacramental confession is an amazing grace that Our Lord offers to us through his church. When we approach Our Lord with sincerity, humility, honesty and faith in this sacrament, it allows God to free us from our sins and penetrate our hearts with the joy that comes from experiencing his unconditional love.
A serious Catholic should take advantage monthly of the sacrament of reconciliation. If this is not part of your spiritual routine, Lent is the perfect moment to begin to utilize this amazing tool for transformation and growth in happiness and holiness.
Lent is also a great time to focus on the key relationships in our lives. For husbands and wives, it is a moment to invite the Holy Spirit to reveal to you how you can love your spouse more completely.
For parents, Lent is a great opportunity to deepen your relationships with your children by spending more time with them and discerning opportunities for giving them encouragement as well as areas where you need to challenge them in the development of virtue.
Beyond the family, we need to ask Our Lord to help us recognize opportunities to bring God’s love and the joy of his Gospel to friends, neighbors and co-workers.
For some of us, we may be experiencing the cross in our lives. Our cross can be physical suffering resulting from illness or age. It can also be emotional suffering that comes from broken relationships.
Lent is a special time to unite our suffering with that of the crucified Jesus. Lent is a great time to read prayerfully one or more of the Passion narratives, allowing the depth of God’s love to penetrate our hearts.
This Lent, I will be offering a weekly podcast reflecting on the Chapter 6 of St. John’s Gospel, the great catechesis of Jesus on the Eucharist and his identity as the bread of life.
I hope these reflections will be another opportunity for spiritual growth and a preparation for the three-year pastoral initiative in the United States beginning this June to renew and deepen in the hearts of all Catholics amazement and awe for the miracle of Our Lord’s real presence in the Eucharist.
I pray this Lent may be a great time of grace for each and every member of the archdiocese. May these special weeks deepen our love for Jesus and our gratitude for the gift of our Catholic faith.