Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On Feb. 26 we begin our annual pilgrimage through the desert to the Cross, and through the Cross to the joy of the Easter sacraments and Easter morning.
When we look at the Crucified One, what do we see? Pope Francis encourages us to see arms wide open, in an embrace of love. He encourages us to see a love poured out, inviting us into relationship. He encourages us to see that death does not have the last word; mercy triumphs over sin. As the Holy Father reminds us, “the great mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus [is the] cornerstone of our personal and communal Christian life” (Message for Lent, 2020).
The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is Good News. Through baptism, we are brought into this reality, the paschal mystery. For those already baptized, our Lenten pilgrimage calls us to a renewal of this truth in our lives, a renewal of our baptismal identity. For the catechumens, it is a time to prepare to die and be reborn, a time to embrace the cross.
God’s offer of love and mercy in Jesus is freely given. How might we say “yes” to this gift during this joyful season, this favorable time? How might we respond in gratitude to what God has done first?
Pope Francis reminds us that our starting point must always be prayer. It is only in an intimate encounter with the Savior that we come to experience such mercy. We are invited into the desert, we are invited to delve deeply into God’s word, and we are invited to the Sacrament of Mercy: Reconciliation. To that end, I am asking our parish priests to work together so that on March 20-21 at least one church in each deanery will be open for 24 hours for eucharistic adoration and confessions.
Pope Francis also reminds us that putting the crucified Christ at the center of our lives means attending to his wounds in those who suffer today from violence, oppression and injustice. Thus, we are called to almsgiving and fasting. We are called to fasting not only as a reminder that everything we have is a gift, but also as an act of solidarity with those who lack what is needed to live a fully human life. Yet, solidarity is not enough. We also are called to action, to give of what we have to others, not just in the sense of financial aid (for example, through the Rice Bowl Program), but also in terms of how we live our lives and spend our time. We are called to say “no” to an economy that uses and abuses others and the environment in a never-ending quest to acquire more and more.
As a reminder, when it comes to fasting, the minimum that the Church asks of us this season is this:
• Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast. On days of fast, one full meal and two lesser meals are allowed. Eating between meals is not permitted. Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are bound to fast.
• Ash Wednesday and all of the Fridays of Lent are also days of abstinence. On days of abstinence, meat may not be taken. The law of abstinence binds all Catholics 14 years of age or older.
If members of the faithful are unable to observe the fast and abstinence regulations because of ill health or other reasons, they are urged to practice other forms of penance and self-denial suitable to their condition. Ignoring the laws of fast and abstinence is a serious matter.
I hope that this Lent, through our prayer, fasting and almsgiving — in the various forms that these ancient practices might take in our lives today — we will all more fully embrace the Cross of Jesus, and so know the joy of Resurrection Life. Filled with that joy and the promised Spirit, I also hope that we will share this Good News with everyone we meet!
Sincerely in Christ,
Bishop Thomas Zinkula
Bishop of Davenport