Holy Season of Lent
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus:
Monastic life, a vocation lived out in silence and contemplation, is a unique vocation and a special call to enter into vowed, consecrated religious life in an atmosphere of solitude. In my November 2018 column in El Mensajero Católico, I wrote extensively about the monastic communities I have come to know and deeply appreciate.
In our own Diocese, I frequently offer Holy Mass and visit our Sisters at the Carmelite Monastery in Pittsford. I also have had the opportunity to visit and to celebrate Holy Mass on several occasions at the Abbey of the Genesee, the Trappist community in Piffard; likewise, I have been to the Benedictine Mount Savior Monastery in Pine City. I also continue to visit as often as is possible the Carthusian Monastery, the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration, located in Arlington, Vermont, in my former Diocese of Burlington. Throughout the day these monks and nuns pray for us, their prayers of intercession on our behalf rising far above and beyond their monastic enclosure; at Holy Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours (the Divine Office), Eucharistic adoration, in private prayer and contemplation, our needs through them make their way to Our Lord.
Those who live the monastic life must search deep within themselves to find the essence, the heart of their lives, and it must be Jesus Christ, otherwise monastic life becomes an impossibility. The heart of the nun, the monk, must embrace the heart, the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Now, the great majority of us are not called to monastic life. But at the same time in our chosen vocations, careers, life choices and occupations, we, too, are called to have deep personal relationships with Jesus in prayer, in sacramental Reconciliation, Confession, and especially in our union with the Eucharistic Christ at Holy Mass in the reception of Holy Communion. True union with Jesus develops a relationship in which we share with the Lord our needs, our anxieties, our troubles and heartaches, knowing that if others have given up on us, Jesus never gives up on any person! This personal contemplation is far different from the isolation we have endured while the coronavirus was being dealt with, accompanied by the inability to visit loved ones and other in-person restrictions. Our encounter with Christ, who overcomes all barriers, is truly personal and invites us into communion with Him.
On March 2, Ash Wednesday, we began the Holy Season of Lent, a period that for us is a type of monastic contemplation and reflection about our personal relationships with Jesus. It is a time to ask in the privacy of our own hearts the tough questions:Do I pray to Jesus, talk and listen to Jesus daily?
Am I attentive to participating in Holy Mass as my health and circumstances allow or do I find excuses not to attend Mass? Do I understand that Mass is an in-person, prayerful celebration that culminates in the reception of Holy Communion, Jesus coming to me body, blood, soul and divinity?
When was the last time I asked Our Lord to pick me up again and restore healing and forgiveness in my life through the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
When was the last time I asked Jesus to help me?
Once we are united to Jesus, all the other pieces of our life begin to fall into place, no matter the challenges we face, because we understand the real presence of Jesus in our lives and recognize that we are part of God’s family; God calls me His daughter, His son. And our relationships with Jesus and the community of faith cause us to reach beyond ourselves: It is only natural to help feed and clothe the poor; to welcome the foreigner fleeing persecution and anti-religious hostility; to see in every person a life to be protected from attack from the moment of conception until God according to His will calls us home; to recognize that violence, taking the life of another, is inhuman; to cherish who we are as persons created in His very image and likeness. When this happens, the reinvigoration of our faith moves us far beyond a Lenten 40 days into a lifetime with Jesus, the Crucified One!
In this Lenten season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in his 2022 Lenten Message writes to us in these words:
“Let us not grow tired of praying. Jesus taught us to ‘pray always without becoming weary’ (Luke 18:1). We need to pray because we need God. Thinking that we need nothing other than ourselves is a dangerous illusion. If the pandemic has heightened the awareness of our own personal and social fragility, may this Lent allow us to experience the consolation provided by faith in God, without whom we cannot stand firm (cf. Isaiah 7:9).”
In that same Lenten Message, our Holy Father unites faith and fasting with reconciliation and forgiveness:
“Let us not grow tired of uprooting evil from our lives. May the corporal fasting to which Lent calls us fortify our spirit for the battle against sin. Let us not grow tired of asking for forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, knowing that God never tires of forgiving.”
Taking to heart these words of our Holy Father, I pray our parishes will increase the hours for Confession, so that this treasured Sacrament becomes still more evident in the lives of our parishes and religious institutions.
Faith, prayer, reconciliation and forgiveness are integral to the monastic life and essential to maintaining a strong religious community where monasticism flourishes. At the same time, these are essential elements for all vowed religious life, for all clergy, and for all members of the Body of Christ lived in solidarity with Christ Jesus.
The more faith grows stronger in each one of us, the stronger grows our community in Christian charity, “so that life’s truth and beauty may be found not so much in possessing as in giving, not so much in accumulating as in sowing and sharing goodness” (Pope Francis, 2022 Lenten Message).
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving – old fashioned and just for monks and nuns – I don’t think so! They are eternal Christian virtues and practices which will carry us over the threshold from this life to eternal life.
Let us truly pray for each other during this holy season of Lent and together unite in prayer for all who suffer in any way so that we all may know the joy of the Risen Christ. Most especially, let us make attendance at Holy Mass our first priority in this penitential season; attendance at daily Mass during Lent has been and continues to be the best Lenten practice when we enter into communion with Jesus, our strength, our hope and our courage in this earthly journey. Let’s return to Mass! Let us also pray for our sisters and brothers who suffer illnesses and are dealing with serious health issues and are unable to be with us; as part of our family, we keep them and their caregivers in prayer.
When ashes are imposed upon your forehead and you hear those words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” remember that with Christ we are able to rise from the ashes to enter into the life of the Risen Christ, who alone can transform ashes into life, ransoming us from the fragility of our humanity and bestowing upon us the dignity of being called the sons and daughters of God. No human crisis can ever sever the bond between God and His people. And while at our life’s end our mortal bodies turn to dust, our souls live on; the soul “is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 366). The Risen Lord, Our Savior, “will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body, into a spiritual body” (Ibid, no. 999).
Invoking the intercession of Mary, our dearest Mother of Mercy, who became our Mother at the foot of the cross, and St. John Fisher, our Diocesan Patron, who found the strength to endure martyrdom united to Christ, his Savior, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester