Amid abuse scandal, Lenten penitence comes early

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

We have now entered into the penitential season of Lent. On Ash Wednesday the prayer over the offerings beautifully, yet quite earnestly, presents the theme of these 40 days:

As we solemnly offer

the annual sacrifice for the beginning of Lent,

we entreat you, O Lord,

that, through works of penance and charity,

we may turn away from harmful pleasures

and, cleansed from our sins, may become worthy

to celebrate devoutly the Passion of your Son.

Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Prayer, penance and charitable works continue to form the cornerstone of every Lenten observance.

In meditating upon the place of penance in our lives, especially during the holy season of Lent, I realize that penance requires a donation of self that often is difficult and, at times, quite challenging. With this understanding, I thought of you, the good people of our diocese. These last several months, even years, have challenged us all to remain faithful to the church in this most difficult period of history resulting from the scandalous conduct of some clergy. The accounts describing this grave betrayal of trust by those called to serve God’s people wound our hearts, have a depressing effect upon our spirits and fracture trust, causing anger, anxiety and disunity.

Through it all, you, my dear sisters and brothers, cross over the threshold of our churches, and, rising above human and tragic failings, cast your eyes upon the tabernacle, recognizing Christ in the midst of the storm. You still hear the voice of Christ in the proclamation of His Word, become one with Him in Eucharistic communion and feel His presence in the church’s sacramental life – and you perform countless works of charity.

Indeed, before Ash Wednesday we already had been thrust into a penitential Lenten season. I thank you for your deep faith and I pray that together we will know the peace of Easter. Let us also never forget to keep in prayer all who have been so deeply wounded by acts of betrayal, both victims and their families. May they be embraced by Jesus and know His love, which accomplishes all things and whose Sacred Heart binds wounds. Daily I pray for these brothers and sisters whose greatest suffering is the effect these scandalous sins have had upon their faith. May Christ the Good Shepherd lead them home.

Please also keep in your prayers during this holy season of Lent our dedicated priests who continue to serve in our parishes and diocesan ministries. It has been very painful for our priests to see the vocation to which they have dedicated their lives so scarred and portrayed so negatively. Yet they continue their priestly service, knowing that even in the midst of turmoil and heartache, the Mass and the Sacraments must be celebrated, the Word of God preached, the service of charity continued.

On March 13 we again will celebrate a Day of Penance and Mercy, with the Sacrament of Reconciliation available in all our parishes at varying times throughout the day. This opportunity is a true way of living the Lenten season’s call to conversion. Many of our parishes also provide additional times for confession throughout the Lenten observance.

In a time when our faith can be so deeply wounded, the gentle voice of the Good Shepherd is echoed in this healing sacrament, and we are reminded of the Savior’s words: “Know that I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

In closing, let us take to heart the words of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, presented in his 2019 Lenten Message:

“Dear brothers and sisters, the ‘lenten’ period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin (cf. Mark 1:12-13; Isaiah 51:3) … Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion.”

Renewing my deep gratitude for your faith and assuring you that your intentions are brought to the altar, I remain, with a sincere request for your prayers,

Devotedly yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend

+Salvatore R. Matano

Bishop of Rochester

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