Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
“We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
These powerful words, first learned as a student in grammar school during the Stations of the Cross on the Fridays of Lent, remain a familiar refrain for me, especially during the days of our Lenten observance.
The cross, a basic symbol of our faith, most likely first traced on our foreheads by loving parents or with our parents gently moving our hands as we learned how to make the sign of the cross ourselves, accompanies us throughout the entire course of our lives. As Catholic Christians the sign of the cross is often present. In Baptism, the cross traced on our foreheads welcomes us to the Church of God and claims us for Christ our Savior. It is the last gesture made over our bodily remains at the cemetery. On thousands of days in between, it is, hopefully, the first action of the day and the last before we go to bed.
We make the sign of the cross with holy water at the door of the church and again at the beginning of the Mass. Before the reading of the Gospel, we sign our foreheads, hearts and lips reminding ourselves that our minds, lips and hearts belong to God and His word should permeate our lives. Often we begin and end our personal prayer with this comforting sign. In the life of the Church, there are many blessings of persons, places and things. The sign of the cross is always an integral part of those blessings.
The sign of the cross, a simple gesture accompanied by minimal but meaningful words, proclaims our faith in the Triune God who saved us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. It should always be thoughtfully and prayerfully made as we remind ourselves that we belong to God and are the recipients of the grace of salvation.
Lent, the Church’s annual retreat, gives us an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a disciple of the Lord. It reminds us that it is only through constant change and progress in the knowledge and love of Christ that we can persevere as faithful followers of Christ. Conversion is never a once and for all action but rather a process, a journey that takes place through the whole of life.
The season of Lent invites us to enter into the age old practices of prayer, fasting and works of mercy. As we begin our Lenten journey, I encourage you to reflect on what it means to belong to God. The sign of the cross, thoughtfully made and prayerfully recited, will help us to recall our special dignity as members of God’s household of faith.
There is much that we can pray for during Lent. In addition to your personal needs, I commend to the charity of your prayers those who need to be reminded of the importance of Sunday Mass; the need for all of us to do our part in handing on the beauty of our Catholic faith; the need for an increase of vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life; and the need to uphold the dignity of Christian marriage so that those who have entered that life will commit themselves to creating truly Catholic homes where faith will be nourished and sustained. Joined to our prayers, fasting for the same intentions should have a place in our Lenten practices.
On Monday, April 14, I am asking every parish in the diocese and every priest in the diocese to be available for the Sacrament of Reconciliation between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. This will be a grace-filled opportunity to receive the Lord’s forgiveness and to continue on the journey of faith. This diocesan-wide effort gives everyone an opportunity to visit the church of their choosing where this special sacrament will be available. Recall the words of Pope Francis. “God never, ever tires of forgiving us! The problem is that we ourselves tire; we do not want to ask; we grow weary of asking for forgiveness. He is the loving Father who always pardons, who has the heart of mercy for us all” (Pope Francis, Words of Challenge and Hope). Monday, April 14 will be a time for all of us to experience anew the mercy and kindness of God.
May God accompany each of us on our Lenten journey. Let us remember each other in prayer during these blessed forty days.
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse