My Place in the Sun, February 23: A Lenten message from Bishop Robert J. Cunningham

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.”

Lent is the Church’s holy spring. Even in the midst of the cold and snow there are signs that spring is on its way. Most noticeably, the days are longer! Light is replacing the darkness. As we begin to experience hints of new life in nature the Church tells us, “Now is the acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2)! Now is the time to embark on the spiritual journey of conversion that leads beyond the cross of Good Friday to the new life of Easter Sunday.

   In his message for Lent 2017, our Holy Father Pope Francis reminds us, “Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ’s victory over death.” This victory is the victory of the Cross.

   The cross is the instrument and sign of our salvation. Crosses come in all sizes, shapes and material. Some are jeweled, others are intricately carved. Good Friday brings us back to the reality that it is about a wooden cross and, more importantly, about the One who died upon it.

   As we journey through Lent you and I are called to embrace the Cross through more intense prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These penitential practices help us to recognize our need for God, which we declare in a profound way when on Good Friday we gaze at the Cross unveiled before our very eyes and respond to the invitation Behold the wood of the Cross on which hung the salvation of the world with Come, let us adore!

   Saint Ignatius of Loyola suggests that we place ourselves before the cross and consider three questions:

   • What have I done for Christ?

   • What am I doing for Christ?

   • What ought I to do for Christ?

   Lent is an opportunity to consider these questions and our relationship with Christ. We consider our past relationship with Christ and if need be leave all in His merciful hands. We examine our willingness to walk the way of the cross, to lose one’s life in order to gain life. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). We resolve to move forward in the sure hope that Christ accompanies us on our journey of life and faith.

   Pope Francis reminds us, “Christianity does not exist without a Cross. There is no possibility to exit our sins ourselves. The cross is not an ornament to be put on an altar. The cross is the mystery, the mystery of God’s love, who lowers himself and takes on our sins” (Homily, April 8, 2014).

   The Cross of Christ then is an appropriate focus for our Lenten journey, a journey of “return to the Lord” with our whole hearts (Joel 2:13). Therefore, during Lent let us enter into the silence and simplicity of this sacred time, reflect more deeply on the word of God, celebrate the Sacrament of Penance, and take up — in a more intense way — the penitential practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Doing so will help us to share in the suffering of Christ on the Cross for the salvation of the world. Likewise, it will help us to share in his victory over sin and death, joyfully proclaiming the good news on Easter Sunday, “Yes, Christ my hope is arisen” (Sequence).

   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 Reverend Robert J. Cunningham

Bishop of Syracuse