Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14. Bishop Cunningham’s column this week is his Lenten message to all the faithful.
My Dear Friends in Christ,
As I sit at my desk writing my Lenten message to all of you it is snowing and the temperatures are cold. The forecast for the week promises more of the same. In the midst of the cold and snow, we begin the season of Lent.
Lent is derived from the Old English word meaning springtime. In Latin, lente means slowly. Lent points to the coming of spring and it invites us to slow down so we can take stock of ourselves and our relationships with God and others. It may not look like spring or feel like spring. Nonetheless, we begin the Lenten journey toward new life for the whole Church and for each one of us.
The days of Lent have a special quality different from the other days of the year. They keep the essentials of life before us: the great commandment to love God and our neighbor and our personal need for conversion. They call us to attention! “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2Cor 6:2).
Every year the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday calls us to almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. These threefold traditional Lenten practices are as valid today as they have been for centuries. How will we put them into practice this year?
Pope Francis reminds us often to notice our brothers and sisters, especially those who are in need. Following his advice, we can pay attention to those closest to us — family members and neighbors — to those we encounter in our workplaces and those we see on the news or read about in the newspapers. How can we reach out to them? What alms can we give them? Perhaps it is the gift of our time, the mercy of our forgiveness, a heartfelt remembrance in our prayers, or the generosity of a donation. Whatever the case, Lent is a time to remember we are called to notice others and reach out to them with mercy and love.
God speaks to us through the scriptures. We need to be good listeners. This requires some quiet time to reflect on His words. Take time for prayer, listening to God’s word and responding to Him. The length of the time is less important than the consistency with which we take the time. During Lent be still and listen to God’s word.
Fasting immediately brings to mind “giving up” favorite food items and eating less. Both can be good ascetical practices. The Fathers of the Church suggest there are other things we need “to give up.” “If we are truly to fast, we must abstain, above all from every sin” (St. Augustine). St. Leo the Great tells us, “Our fasting does not consist merely in abstinence from food; in fact, there is no profit in depriving the body of nourishment unless the spirit turns from injustice and the tongue abstains from quarreling.” Each of us can ask, “What do I need to ‘give up’ for Lent?”
In our diocese, we are celebrating the Year of the Family. I am asking you to include families and family life in your prayers during Lent. Pray that families will regularly participate in Sunday Mass and that those who have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation will avail themselves of this consoling sacrament during their Lenten journeys. Of course, this would be a good practice for all of us!
The 40 days of the Lenten season point to the coming of spring and new life. Nature teaches us that new life comes slowly. Lent invites us to slow down, to listen to the Lord, notice our brothers and sisters, and “give up” what hinders our relationship with God and others.
Every Lent takes each of us one step closer to the spring of eternal life. Let’s not waste this precious time. May God accompany us on our Lenten journey. I will pray for you during these blessed 40 days and I ask you to pray for me.
Devotedly yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse
All adults, from the completion of their 18th year to the beginning of their 60th year, are expected to fast. All who have completed their 14th year are bound by abstinence. All Fridays in the season of Lent are days of abstinence. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are both days of fasting and abstinence.