By Most Rev. James M. Moynihan
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On Ash Wednesday, we inaugurate the Season of Lent, a period in which we prepare ourselves for a worthy participation in the re-enactment of the death of Jesus Christ during Holy Week, and His resurrection on the glorious Feast of Easter. On Ash Wednesday, we remember God’s words to Adam: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Lent is traditionally a period of dust and ashes, sack cloth and mourning, fasting and penance — all rather unfashionable practices. But perhaps they are not as unfashionable as they were in the 60’s and 70’s. Nowadays, traces of a new asceticism are appearing here and there. Take Friday abstinence, for example. Thirty years ago, this seemed like a practice that only served to mark Catholics as different from other folks. Today, many people have restricted themselves to a fish or vegetarian diet, if only because they feel it leads to better health for themselves.
While Jesus’ Way of the Cross was sad and sorrowful, it should not surprise us. He said of us at one time, “Unless a man takes up his cross daily and comes after Me, he cannot be My Disciple.” It is that word daily, that is so frightening. Christianity is not so much a religion to die for as it is one to life by. The sign of the Cross that monograms our destiny is the hardest martyrdom of all. And yet it is Christ’s blueprint for all who would be His followers.
Lent was designed to teach us to submit to these crosses as the will of God. Lent means being generous about taking up our cross daily and carrying it to Golgotha daily to make of it a crucifix. There was once a great soul who died with Christ during the First World War, and who now lives with His crucified and risen Savior. He was so skillful in turning a cross into a crucifix for the love of Christ that I must tell you what he said:
My shoulders ache beneath my pack
(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).
I march with feet that burn and smart
(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).
Men shout at me who may not speak
(They scourged Thy back and smote Thy cheek).
I may not lift a hand to clear
My eyes of salty drops that sear.
(Then shall my fickle soul forget
Thy agony of Bloody Sweat?)
My rifle hand is stiff and numb
(From Thy pierced palm red rivers come).
Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me
Than all the hosts of land and sea.
So let me render back again
This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.
Whatever you do during this Lent, let it be directed to making you more aware of that hunger for God that resides at the very core of our being. It may happen that the priorities of your life will gradually begin to change, even as you turn your crosses into crucifixes.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Most Rev. James M. Moynihan
Bishop of Syracuse
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence. Catholics 14 years of age and older are bound to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. Catholics age 18 to 59 are bound by the law of fasting. “The Law of Fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing — as far as quantity and quality are concerned — approved local custom.” (Apostolic Constitution Poenitemini, 1966)
• Churches of Eastern Europe is scheduled to be taken on Ash Wednesday.
• Black & Native American collection to be taken on the first weekend of Lent.
• Shrines in the Holy Land to be taken on Good Friday.