Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On Ash Wednesday, when the sign of the cross is marked on our foreheads, we are reminded of our mortality and dependence on God. It is a call — a wake-up call — to repent and refocus on living as missionary disciples of Christ.
I hope you are having a good Lent so far and using this opportunity to reset and recharge your faith life through penance, prayer, fasting and good works. God wants us to use these 40 days to change our lives for the better, to grow closer to him, to reconcile with people we’re at odds with, and to change the world for the better by sharing his message of love and mercy, especially with those who are struggling or on the peripheries of our society.
What changes is God calling you to make in your thoughts, words and actions?
Prayer always brings us closer to Christ. I invite you this Lent to spend time each day — perhaps in the morning before work, school or doing other tasks — with the Scripture readings for Mass that day. They are printed in many parish bulletins and on the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (usccb.org). What is God saying to you in those readings? How do they comfort or challenge you?
Additionally, I encourage you to participate in special prayers and devotions, such as the rosary or Stations of the Cross, in your homes or parishes.
Lent also is a time when we practice fasting — giving up something we enjoy to focus on something else that needs our attention. Abstaining from certain foods or drinks, or cutting back on television, video games or cellphone use can help us to concentrate more on Christ and the needs of those around us. We could also do something extra — something we really ought to do, but too often don’t: perhaps helping a neighbor, volunteering at our parish, or performing an intentional, daily act of kindness for a loved one or stranger.
And then there is almsgiving, or good works. Our prayer and fasting should remind us of those who hunger, suffer and are in need. It should compel us to reach out with the love of Christ and offer a compassionate hand of support. One way to do this is by participating in Catholic Relief Services’ Rice Bowl program, which helps to cultivate a spirit of encounter and solidarity with others around the world as part of our Lenten sacrifice.
During this penitential season, I encourage you as well to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation — one of the most powerful and tangible ways to experience God’s mercy and begin anew.
There is a special opportunity to do this on March 31, when our diocese will once again be holding a Festival of Forgiveness. On that day, the sacrament of reconciliation will be available at designated churches for a 12-hour period. This special event, which you will be hearing about in your parish, is for all the Catholic faithful, including those who have been away from the sacraments for a while. I invite you to participate in the festival, where you will be welcomed with mercy and forgiveness, not judgment.
If we avail ourselves of these special opportunities for prayer, fasting, almsgiving and penance, we will have a fruitful Lenten experience. It is not too late to answer Lent’s wake-up call to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop Donald J. Kettler