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Bishop Walkowiak's Lenten Message

My dear friends,

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends before the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. The 40 days of Lent are not literally 40 days, but the number calls to mind all the other uses of “40” in the Scriptures. For 40 days Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert to prepare for his proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Moses and Elijah both fasted for 40 days. In the story of Noah and the ark, it rained for 40 days; after the flood waters had receded, the earth had a new beginning of life. For 40 years the people of Israel wandered in the wilderness of the desert on their way to the Promised Land. In the Bible, “40” means that something important is taking place.

We enter into the season of Lent with ashes on our foreheads—another sign of something important taking place. During the remaining days we fast in various ways—perhaps by eating less food, foregoing treats, giving up video games and time spent on the Internet. We give alms (money or goods) so that we practice sharing what God has given to us with our brothers and sisters in need. We pray to enter into God’s presence, to experience his divine love and mercy, and to praise and thank him for all that he has done and is doing in our lives. In these ways we remember our baptismal vocation and try to grow more deeply into the Christian life, which always involves the love of God, ourselves, and others.

Ash Wednesday is one of the best-attended days of the liturgical year. I am always inspired by the effort people make to come to Church on Ash Wednesday and to be challenged by the meaning of the ashes: “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return,” and “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Lent is a good reality check for Christian believers. Who are we? We are sojourners, pilgrims. Here, we have no lasting home. We are also sinners. While we are on the journey that leads to communion with the Lord and his saints, we are invited to respond to the Lord’s invitation, to turn away from all that is unfitting in the life of a Christian and to be faithful to the Gospel. The ashes, then, remind us not only of our mortality but also of the beautiful destiny of our immortal soul, the eternal spark of life given to every human being that God calls into existence.

We can use this Lent as a time for changing our lives so that we may become more like Christ. What habits in your life need to appear, reappear or disappear so that you are a stronger, more committed follower of Christ? Our habits (or lack of them) are a good focus for determining how to allow the Spirit to work in our lives during Lent. The best antidote for any of the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, envy, anger, pride, sloth) is the sacrament of penance! Humbly telling the whole truth when you confess your sins is liberating for the soul! This is the proven way to prepare for joyfully renewing our baptismal promises at Mass on Easter Sunday.

Lent is a time for changing our lives so that we may think like Christ, act like Christ and thus become more like Christ, who is the incarnation of God’s love. Every morning we should begin our day by recalling the two main questions of the spiritual life: “Where will I encounter God in this day?” and “What does God want me to do with this day that has been given to me?” We have the opportunity; God will provide the grace. Let us pray for each other as we journey together through this holy season. May we be prepared to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and renew our baptismal promises with glad hearts on Easter Sunday!

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