Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Lent: A time of blessing"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the Feb. 25, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

On Ash Wednesday, the Church begins a special time of prayer and preparation for the Sacred Triduum, culminating in the great celebration of the Easter Vigil. For us Catholics Lent is considered something of a longer, drawn-out retreat, supported by prayer, fasting, penance, and almsgiving.

As the ashes are marked in the sign of the cross on our foreheads, we are reminded of who we really are. This is our great common denominator: We are headed toward our death, returning to the earth from which our bodies are made. What a lovely home God provides for us on our earthly journey – truly remarkable for these few years here on earth! St. Paul refers to it as our earthly tent, and it’s a good analogy.

Our timed aging process still is something of a mystery – what causes it all? – but it does unfold in all of us. Lent is a good reminder of this temporary home in which we live as we journey towards the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

That realization should make us seriously consider why we have been created, what our lives should really be about, and how we live good stewardship of the moment on our journey. For some, the journey to heaven is shorter than for others, but no matter it’s length, it is still brief. We should be mindful of the One who should be first and foremost among our relationships, how we live out that presence in ourselves, and how we see it in others. Prayer of any kind automatically places us in relationship with our God. The added prayerful fervor of the season of Lent provides a good opportunity of appreciating and deepening that relationship with the Lord.

There are many different opportunities for enriching our prayer lives. Some choose the celebration of daily Eucharist. Some attend special devotional prayers during Lent, such as the Stations of the Cross, a daily rosary, or a more regular celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It’s so easy to let the baggage of our sinfulness pile up, rather than regularly approaching this sacrament of forgiveness and healing. A couple of weeks ago, a parishioner told me how she felt so free and joyful after celebrating this sacrament with her confessor. All of us know that experience and feeling.

And in fact, when we think about it, all of Lent is kind of a liberating experience. There is a mark left upon us when we take the season seriously.

Fasting has long been part of our Catholic tradition. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we are asked to fast – to take much less food on those days than we normally do. There is something about fasting that goes much beyond just giving up something. To be faithful to fasting demands a kind of discipline to make sure that we are faithful to the practices that can deepen our sense of sacrifice for a good spiritual purpose (as well perhaps to eat in a more healthy manner). When we enter seriously into the disciplines of Lent, they can have a lifelong, positive impact. Regularly identifying with the cross of Jesus can provide a healthy outlook as we experience pain, hurt, or loss, of whatever kind, for whatever reason. In a real sense, sacrifice makes the heart grow fonder. So we don’t sacrifice just for sacrifice sake. With the right kind of attitude, sacrifice leads us to a deeper reality and appreciation. And Lent can have a real impact on that attitude!

Similarly, when we approach penance in a positive way, identifying with the Lord, it can lead us to a very different place. St. Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians has great insight into penance and suffering: “in my own flesh, I fill up what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church” (1:24). There is something that powerfully unites us in the commonality and mutuality of suffering, of giving. Over the past years, I have given up music in Lent. I like to listen to music while I drive and when at home. When I first began this practice of not listening to music a few years ago, I didn’t realize the lasting impact it would have during the weeks of Lent. I found myself becoming more reflective and prayerful while driving. I also came to realize how I sometimes fill my life with sound, and how precious, positive and enriching are times of reflective silence. At other times of the year now, while on longer trips, times of silence in the car provide wonderful opportunities for prayerful reflection and gratitude. Just to give up music for the sake of giving it up is shallow and superficial.

Finally, almsgiving should be part of our Catholic DNA. The tragedy in Haiti has provided us a wonderful opportunity for generosity. The concern and generosity of so many are evident and inspiring. As Archbishop Thomas Murphy, the former Archbishop of Seattle, used to say, “What do I own, and what owns me?” That comment provides good material for reflection on our level of generosity during this Lenten season.

Blessings and peace to all for a joyful, fruitful and prayerful Lent!

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