Lent deepens our understanding of the sacrifice of the cross
My dear brothers
and sisters in Christ:
We are now well into the holy season of Lent. The days pass very quickly, and it is possible that our resolutions to deepen and enrich our faith have not progressed as we had hoped. But there is still time – the Lord constantly awaits us with open arms. Two time-honored and truly blessed practices are participating at daily Mass and receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
In his 2018 Lenten message, Pope Francis encourages us with these words:
“ … (W)herever we go, we are called as Christians to proclaim the liberating news that forgiveness for sins committed is possible, that God is greater than our sinfulness, that He freely loves us at all times and that we were made for communion and eternal life.”
In the same message, our Holy Father challenges us to be mindful of the poor: “In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.”
The Lenten collection CRS Rice Bowl aids so many of our sisters and brothers through Catholic Relief Services, which for 75 years has been providing expertise and compassion to the very poorest of our brothers and sisters in more than 100 countries.
Most encouraging are the numbers of our young people, motivated by deep faith, who reach out to those who have so little. Recently I presided at the three Hands of Christ ceremonies, presenting awards to almost 460 high-school seniors of our diocese who were recognized for practicing their Catholic faith, their parish and school involvement, and their community outreach by assisting the poor and those who seek in us the presence of Jesus amid difficult circumstances. Already at a young age, these award recipients have become leaders in the church and in society.
As I thank God for the witness of these wonderful young men and women, I also join with our entire country in praying for the protection and welfare of our youths as we mourn the tragic and senseless deaths of those lives lost by the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. During this Lenten season we pray that our loving Father will console the grieving families, and we entrust the wounded to the care of the Divine Physician.
As we progress through the Lenten season amid the turbulence of our world, we must fix our eyes upon the cross, which testifies to the selfless love of Christ we are called to imitate. Jesus suffered the humiliation of the cross for us. His suffering gives meaning to the crosses we bear in life in service to others. I think first of parents who want the very best for their children and make tremendous sacrifices to provide for them a good home, a fine education, and a caring and loving family environment. Many parents work two jobs for the welfare of their families. When a child is in difficulty at any age, most likely the first safe harbor sought is the heart of a parent.
As the parent deals with heartache and challenges, love becomes the dominant feeling, a desire to help and to relieve the hurt of a son or daughter. So it was from the cross that Jesus Himself transformed the pain and heartache He endured into extraordinary love as He bestowed upon us the love of a mother, His own Mother Mary: “Seeing His mother there with the disciple whom He loved, Jesus said to His mother, ‘Woman, there is your son.’ In turn He said to the disciple, ‘There is your mother’” ( John 19: 26-27).
Many people in so many other vocations and work responsibilities make sacrifices to help others. These sacrifices are not restricted to the Lenten season, but Lent gives us encouragement and deepens our understanding of and appreciation for the virtue of sacrifice embodied by the cross. The Lenten season powerfully reminds us: “The innocent Lamb was slain on the altar of the cross, and yet from the immolation of the victim, new life burst forth: The power of evil was destroyed by the power of self-sacrificing love” (Lent With Pope Benedict XVI, p. 113).
Once we come to understand the redemptive nature of the cross, we can then rejoice in the glory of the Resurrection. The cross “speaks to all who suffer – the oppressed, the sick, the poor, the outcast, the victims of violence – and it offers them hope that God can transform their suffering into joy, their isolation into communion, their death into life. It offers unlimited hope to our fallen world” (ibid). The darkness of Golgotha becomes the brilliant light of Easter; Golgotha weeps no more.
“Easter morning brings us news that is ancient yet ever new: Christ is risen! The echo of this event, which issued forth from Jerusalem twenty centuries ago, continues to resound in the Church, deep in whose heart lives the vibrant faith of Mary, Mother of Jesus, the faith of Mary Magdalene and the other women who first discovered the empty tomb, and the faith of Peter and the other apostles” (ibid, p. 126).
This is the very faith that has been the foundation of our diocese since its beginning 150 years ago on March 3, 1868.
Invoking the intercession of Our Mother, Mary, and St. John Fisher, our patron, let us continue our Lenten journey bringing us to the joy of Easter. In making this pilgrimage to the Risen Christ, let us be particularly mindful of the sick, the outcast and the foreigner, the isolated and the imprisoned, the materially and spiritually impoverished, who so much need the hope and joy of Easter.
Assuring you of my prayers during this holy season and asking a remembrance in your good prayers, I remain