February 10, 2016
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:
Today we begin the season of Lent, the Church’s annual retreat. This season, marked by the traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, invites us to a spiritual discipline that allows God to work silently within us as we prepare for the Solemnity of Easter with hearts and minds renewed.
We are in the midst of the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. The Holy Father asks that the season of Lent “be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17).
Allow me to suggest that you look to Pope Francis and his hopes for the Year of Mercy for your Lenten practices.
Prayerful reading and meditation on Sacred Scripture. “How many pages of Sacred Scripture are appropriate for meditation during the weeks of Lent to help us discover the merciful face of the Father!” (Misericordiae Vultus, 17). The scripture readings for the Sundays during Lent are a good source for your prayerful consideration. Or, you might consider the parables of mercy found in Chapter 15 of St. Luke’s Gospel. The prayerful reading of the Gospel will reveal the mercy of Jesus as He heals, forgives sins, comforts the afflicted and instructs the crowds. It will also awaken you to the call to extend mercy to others.
Receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Sacrament of Penance is a great treasure. We may be tempted to dismiss it, perhaps due to laziness or embarrassment, or because of a diminishing sense of sin and its effect. Too often we see ourselves as the center of things, and our lives can go adrift. The sacrament of Reconciliation calls us back to God and embraces us with his infinite mercy and joy. “Don’t be afraid of confession. When someone is in line for confession he feels fear, shame, embarrassment but then he finishes confessing he leaves feeling free, great, beautiful, forgiven, clean, happy” (Pope Francis, General Audience, February 19, 2014).
Pope Francis asks us to observe on March 4-5 the initiative of “24 Hours for the Lord.” I have asked that each region of the diocese have churches designated for this initiative. I am happy to announce that Holy Family Church in Syracuse, St. Daniel Church in Syracuse, St. Joseph and St. Patrick Church in Utica, Transfiguration Church in Rome, Holy Family Church in Endwell, Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Endicott and St. Peter’s Church in Oswego will be observing this period with Eucharistic Adoration and a period of time for the reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
If you are unable to participate in the “24 Hours for the Lord” on the days designated for this initiative, all our parishes offer regular opportunities for confession. Many of our churches will also open their doors during Lent for Eucharistic Adoration where you can simply “be still with the Lord.”
Practice works of mercy. Pope Francis hopes the Jubilee Year of Mercy will be an occasion for people to reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of a neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in His preaching and actions.
Lent is a good time to rediscover the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. And do not neglect the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill and pray for the living and dead. The works of mercy serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged. “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
Pope Francis asks that we not waste the season of Lent, so favorable a time for conversion. During this Year of Mercy, I hope you will ever more fully encounter the transforming power of God’s mercy and in turn extend mercy to others. May we all know the grace of conversion and the comforting grace of God’s mercy.
With the assurance of my prayers, I am
Cordially yours in the Lord,
Most Reverend Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse
For a listing of Year of Mercy and Lenten events, please go to www.syrdio.org.