Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of the season of Lent, with blessed ashes imposed on our foreheads reminding us of important truths, such as the fragility of life, God’s infinite mercy and his gift of salvation in Christ. Lent is a holy and beautiful season of love, forgiveness and reconciliation as we respond to Christ’s invitation to repentance, turning away from sin, and believing in the Gospel and turning our life to God. During the 40 days of the season, we embark on a spiritual pilgrimage uniting our life to the celebration of the Paschal Mystery – the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ in a spirit of prayer, fasting (sacrifice) and almsgiving (good works).
Pope Francis’s Message for Lent 2020 is “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). Our Holy Father urges us to be challenged by the great mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ, to rediscover the roots of our conversion. He hopes that by replacing the mystery at the center of our life through the dialogue of prayer, we develop compassion for Christ crucified in the many innocent victims of war and violence, injustices against life, environmental disasters, inequity in the distribution of wealth, human trafficking and insatiable thirst for profit. Lent offers us the opportunity to free ourselves from the culture of accumulating more for ourselves and instead share our resources in a spirit of love to contribute to the building of an equitable world that makes us more human.
Our diocesan Lenten theme this year, “Be Reconciled to Christ,” refers to Pope Francis’ Lenten message. Reconciliation is an essential element of our faith and relationship with God. It begins with repentance, the need to turn away from sin, change the course of our life and turn to God. It opens our heart to God’s mercy, forgiveness and salvation, made possible through the Paschal Mystery, which is the very foundation of our Christian life. Reconciliation sets the foundation towards our faith renewal and is essential for us to become missionary disciples of Christ.
Lenten Journey and the Diocesan Pastoral Plan
I invite you to adapt our Lenten theme to the implementation of our Diocesan Pastoral Plan.
Together, we can pursue the vision and mission of our diocese to achieve renewal of our faith through the disciplines of Lent: prayer, fasting (sacrifice) and almsgiving (good works) in order to bring about a springtime of a new evangelization.
Prayer, centered in the Eucharist, is the summit of our Christian life and worship. Lent is a time for faith formation, a time to foster a greater knowledge and understanding, love, reverence and devotion to the Holy Eucharist. During these 40 days, many parishes regularly have Stations of the Cross, novenas, praying of the rosary, other pious devotions and/or a Holy Hour or Benediction. Many parishes also offer additional opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The Lenten practice of fasting or some other acts of bodily mortification should be done in a spirit of sacrifice. The word “sacrifice” literally means to “make holy; to make the world a holy place.” We make ourselves holy by uniting our life with God in prayer and sacrifice – in his suffering, death and resurrection.
Fasting and abstinence from meat during Lent have nothing to do with dieting, nor is it hating or despising the world and its material goods. Rather, it is the emptying or detaching of our inner selves of anything that obstructs God’s grace working in us and filling our hearts with God’s loving and saving presence. Being truthful, honest, caring and compassionate paves our path to holiness. Fasting helps us uproot our deep-seated habits of sin and the relentless desire for money, food, comfort and power.
Sacrifice also teaches us the value of stewardship – joyful giving and sacrificial offering of our time, talent and treasure – as the Christian way of life. We deprive ourselves of some material needs and times for comfort and instead offer what we give up, and share it with our brothers in need. This Lenten discipline strengthens our soul and builds our character so we can be more united to God and receptive to his will.
1. For Lent, I encourage parishioners to give up going to movies, dinners, trips and other recreational activities, and to donate the money you save to the Church or to charity.
2. I also encourage you to support your parish Fish Fry or Friday soup supper or other community events to promote a community spirit. This also is a show of unity and solidarity with our poor brothers and sisters, who have less than we do, as the proceeds from fundraisers can be donated to charitable causes.
3. Support CRS Rice Bowl and teach children, young adults and the community their sacrifice helps alleviate hunger and contributes to building a better world.
Alsmgiving or Works of Charity
The Lenten discipline of almsgiving (or charity) helps promote the social teaching of the Church on issues of life, justice and peace. Reaching out to others in charity builds one global family, the Body of Christ united in faith, love and peace, and helps establish a civilization of love, justice and peace.
Many of the younger generation and young adults who have left the Church or abandoned their belief in God are attracted to social or charitable work and have strong convictions on the dignity and sanctity of life. Works of charity pave the opportunity for the religiously unaffiliated younger generation called the “nones” to reconnect with God and come back to the Church.
As part of faith formation, teach others by helping them to develop sensitivity and awareness of the suffering of the poor. Encourage them to attend to the needs of the poor with love and compassion. Performing charitable works strengthens the spirit of stewardship as a way of life.
1. Teach about the Catholic Social Teaching of our Church and help set up or attend parish prayer groups to learn more about the issues of the sanctity and dignity of life in any stage and age.
2. Organize parish events and works of charity; invite and engage teenagers and young adults to participate and work to help the poor and those in need: assist the elderly, immigrants and refugees; feed the homeless; visit the sick at home, in hospitals and those incarcerated. Encourage volunteer work at Catholic Community Services of Utah.
3. Attend prayer services to bring healing, reconciliation and peace for those suffering pain and grief due to broken relationships, cultural differences and other challenges in their life.
4. Form or attend Respect Life and social justice groups in your parish. Find ways to inspire, empower and engage the community to advocate for life, justice and peace in order to contribute in building a better society and a just world for everyone.
Lent, which originally meant springtime, is a new season of opportunity for growth and renewal in our spiritual life. Let us make every effort to unite our hearts with Christ’s passion, death and resurrection through penance and reconciliation so that we may receive God’s Easter gift to us, newness of life. Our Lenten practices or disciplines should not be intrusions into our comfort but harbingers of hope for faith renewal and a more Christ-centered way of life.
I call on all the faithful throughout the Diocese of Salt Lake City to join our hearts together in a spiritual Lenten journey towards celebration of Easter as one faith community. It is a time to seek God’s grace to dispel the darkness of sin in our lives and give way to new light of grace. It is a time to “Be Reconciled In Christ” so that God’s blessings may be upon us.
Reverend Oscar A. Solis, D.D.
Bishop of Salt Lake City