February 11, 2024

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

The holy season of Lent will begin with this week’s Ash Wednesday celebration. This season offers us, as Catholics, an opportunity to engage in the meaningful tradition of self-denial. It is a time when we consciously choose to abstain from certain pleasures and habits, not merely as an act of discipline but as a profound gesture of aligning ourselves with the sacrificial spirit of Christ. This act of “giving up” serves multiple purposes: it teaches us self-control, redirects our focus from material pursuits to spiritual enrichment, and most importantly, signifies our repentance for our sins and our longing to walk more closely with Christ.

I am reminded of a poignant story about a father who encouraged his children to go beyond the usual practice of giving up sweets for Lent. He urged them to renounce a sinful habit instead. Halfway through Lent, he inquired about how they were doing with their Lenten promises. One son, who had vowed to stop fighting with his siblings, replied, “I’m doing pretty good, Dad—but boy, I can’t wait until Easter!”. This response, while endearing, reveals a partial understanding of the true essence of Lent. Lent is not just a temporary pause from sin; it’s about a profound and lasting conversion. It calls for a complete transformation of our lives to embody the ways of Christ, abandoning sin not just for a season but forever.

I’d like to think of Lent as a time to recognize and relinquish the control that certain behaviors or inclinations have over us. It’s about allowing God to take the reins of our lives. The concept of “detachment” is often discussed during this period. It implies that by being less occupied with worldly matters, we make more room for God in our lives. Apart from the traditional abstinence from meat on Fridays, Lent provides a chance to give up various other things: excessive television watching, compulsive gossiping, unhealthy eating habits, or any vice that impedes our spiritual growth, like laziness, procrastination, lack of passion or zeal, or the tendency to exert control or influence over others, etc. It’s about identifying our personal struggles and focusing our Lenten discipline on overcoming them.

Contrary to being solely about sacrifice, Lent is equally a time for positive transformation and growth. It can be about adopting better habits: responsible use of money and time, moderation in food and drink, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, enhancing personal organization, reducing internet usage or dependency on social media, or engaging in daily prayer and Scripture meditation. These practices are not only beneficial for our physical well-being but also immensely nourishing for our souls.

The austerity of Lent, however, does not preclude us from experiencing joy and celebration. It’s about pausing our relentless pursuit of pleasure and allowing ourselves to be surprised by joy in its purest form. When we experience these moments of happiness, we recognize them as gifts from God. Thus, Lent is not solely about renunciation; it’s equally about incorporating acts of goodness into our lives and the lives of others, aligning with the teachings of Jesus.

A significant aspect of Lent is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I encourage you to visit our parish or other churches to partake in Confession. Remember, God’s transformative work in our lives begins when we open our hearts to His grace. As St. Paul reminds us, “now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). Let us not delay in embracing this sacred opportunity.

Wishing you a Lenten season full of joy and renewal, I remain.

Faithfully yours in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham