Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord:
The lengthening of days and the progression of the seasons brings us once more to the Holy Season of Lent, which this year begins on Feb. 17th.

Our observance of Ash Wednesday commences the solemn period of 40 days during which we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection on Easter. Winter moves toward spring and Lent moves us to the new life which the Lord Jesus came to bring through His life, death and resurrection.

The call of this holy season is one of preparation, to prepare ourselves to renew our baptismal promises, or in some cases, to ready oneself for the celebration of the sacraments of initiation — Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. At the core of such preparation is genuine conversion of heart. The Season of Lent is an invitation to work toward a consistency between our inner and outer selves: to let the faith we profess with our lips, live in our actions and truly express who we are in God’s eyes and as one who claims the name, “Christian.”
To assist us with such conversion and growth, the Church reminds us in the gospel of Ash Wednesday of three traditional practices: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Each of these practices takes us outside and beyond ourselves and is directed to setting right our relationship with God, self and others… toward God through prayer, toward self through fasting, and toward others through charity.

In his Lenten message this year, Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that fasting contributes to conferring a unity to the whole person, body and soul, helping to avoid sin and grow in intimacy with the Lord. “Through fasting and praying,” the Pope says, “we allow Christ to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God.”

During this Season of Lent, I encourage every member of the Diocese of Syracuse to pray and fast for the suffering people of Haiti; for an increase of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life here in our diocese and throughout the Church; and for our own growth in holiness. Prayer and fasting are essential to our Christian life. I also encourage you to receive the Sacrament of Penance so that you may celebrate Easter with mind and heart renewed.

I join with all of you in prayer as we enter this season of Lent.  As we receive ashes on Ash Wednesday may it be a point of departure for a prayerful, penitential and charitable Lenten season.

Devotedly yours in our Lord,
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse

(If you have a request for Bishop Cunningham’s prayer list, please send it to him at P.O. Box 501, Syracuse, N.Y. 13201.)

A note from Bishop Cunningham on the Lenten season

Feb. 17, 2010 is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Season of Lent.

ABSTINENCE: All Catholics who have reached their 14th birthday are bound to abstain totally from meat on the following days:  Ash Wednesday, all Fridays of Lent and Good Friday.

FASTING: All Catholics between their 18th and 59th birthdays are also bound to observe the Law of Fast on the following days:  Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  This practice involves limiting oneself to a single full meal and avoiding food between meals.  Light sustenance may be taken on two other occasions in the course of the day.

EASTER DUTY: After they have been initiated into the Most Holy Eucharist, all the faithful are bound by the obligation of receiving Communion at least once a year. This precept must be fulfilled during the Easter Season, unless for a good reason it is fulfilled at another time during the year. This obligation may be fulfilled between February 21 (First Sunday in Lent) and May 30 (Trinity Sunday).

• RECONCILIATION: Catholics are bound by an obligation faithfully to confess serious sins at least once a year (Canon 989).

• OTHER FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR: Catholics should be reminded that all other Fridays of the year remain as days of penance, in prayerful remembrance of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

• OBLIGATION: The obligation which we have as members of the Church to do penance is a serious one.  Furthermore, the obligation to observe, as a whole or “substantially,” the penitential days specified by the Church is a serious one.
• While no one should hold himself or herself lightly excused, one should not become unduly scrupulous.  Failure to observe individual days of penance is less serious than the failure to observe any penitential days at all or a substantial number of such days.

AN INVITATION: I encourage the faithful of the diocese to add voluntary fasting to the practice of penance during the Fridays of the year. Among the intentions for this praiseworthy custom would be a greater respect for human life among all peoples and an increase in vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life in our diocese and throughout the Church.

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