Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes


by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the March 16, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

On March 1, we began to travel a familiar path: the journey of Lent. It is an annual journey that leads us into deeper relationship with our God, the journey that invites us into a deeper understanding of the mystery that is the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Brother, Jesus.

There can be a sameness about Lent. After all, it comes around every year. It is a long season by the calendar – seven weeks when we focus on reflection, on amending our lives, on preparing to celebrate the Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, and Easter itself.

Every year, we are reminded to do penance of some sort. For some of us, that takes the form of “giving up” something, whether it be a cherished, albeit unnecessary, pleasure in life, or something more penitential, like truly fasting beyond the two days, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, that the Church requires of us. For others, it means “adding on” some practice to deepen our spiritual growth during the season. Perhaps this Lent, to go to bed a little earlier and get up a little earlier, to spend some quiet moments at the beginning of the day in personal prayer. Maybe this Lent, to make a practice of going to Mass at least once during the week, in addition to celebrating the Eucharist each Sunday.

I’ve known those who gave up smoking – just for Lent. Others cut back on their food each day, just a little – just for Lent. Still others might turn off the TV, or skip an evening cocktail, or forego chocolate – just for Lent.

All of those can be good things. Self-mortification can strip away the unnecessary distractions of life and help us concentrate on what’s really important to us as we try to grow closer to God, during Lent and, in fact, throughout the year.

On the bedrock of our Lenten practices, however, we must find a layer of integrity.

Integrity seems to be getting a fair amount of discussion in civil (and sometimes not-so-civil!) discourse these days. Politicians, particularly, like to throw around testimonials to their own sense of integrity, or their opponents’ lack thereof.

Why we do what we do is a fundamental, foundational question each of us must ask, and ask most appropriately at the beginning of Lent. It’s where our sense of integrity leaves its mark.

I suspect each of us would espouse the importance of a sense of integrity – the kind of backbone, the personal courage it takes to do what we know is right, even under difficult circumstances – impossible circumstances – and even when (we think) nobody else is looking. That the end does not justify the means. That there are unchanging truths and standards. One popular approach, particularly among young people, is to ask, “What would Jesus do?” The answer to that question is usually a little more complicated than we might like! Still, it provides a good start for discerning our motives and our course of action in life.

As Catholic Christians, we have the teachings of our Lord and the Church to help us form our conscience, to give us that map, that moral spine, that guides us as we move through life. We make decisions each and every day about how we will conduct ourselves – in business, on the street, in our families, in our parish communities.

Honor plays a part. Integrity applies to the work place: Do I steal from my employer, whether that’s petty office supplies, or time I’m paid for that I use for my own purposes?

Am I truthful? And if I am truthful, do I speak with charity, or do I use “speaking the truth” as an excuse to be needlessly cruel and hurtful? Do I live the truth, in love? (Eph. 4:15) Or do I just want to feel superior and self-righteous?

The principles we apply to our daily lives also apply to our Lenten resolve as we journey to Easter. We have to ask ourselves honestly, truthfully, why we are doing what we are doing. Do we fast in order to shed distraction, to discipline ourselves – or just to lose a little weight? Do we turn off the TV so that we spend time building relationships with family, with parish – or so that we can window shop on the Internet?

The disciplines of Lent strip away distractions that keep us from our real purpose: a closer relationship with our loving God. As we accept the demands of our Lenten journey, let’s also accept our responsibility to act with integrity – with each other, with ourselves, with our Lord.

May God bless you during this holy season.

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