March 10, 2024

Dear beloved parishioners,

As we gather on this Fourth Sunday of Lent, known as Lætare Sunday, our hearts are called to rejoice amidst our journey of penance and reflection. Lætare, meaning “Rejoice,” signifies a moment of light within our Lenten pilgrimage, reminding us of the joy and hope that the Resurrection of Christ brings. The priest’s use of the rose-colored vestment today symbolizes the light of Christ that penetrates the somberness of Lent with the promise of Easter.

In our readings at Mass today, we are enveloped in the profound message of hope and divine mercy, a theme deeply resonant throughout the Sacred Scriptures and the teachings of our Church. This message is beautifully encapsulated in Pope Francis’ “Misericordiae Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”), where he describes God’s covenant with humanity as a “history of mercy.” This narrative of divine compassion and tenderness is a love story that culminates in the Incarnation of God’s Son, Jesus Christ—Mercy Incarnate.

The Holy Father reminds us that Lent is a “privileged moment” to live more intensely through the experience of God’s mercy. It is a call to each of us to encounter Jesus, who extends His mercy, inviting us to embrace it fully. In the words of St. Benedict, a spiritual giant of our Church, this season of Lent urges us to do “something extra,” a gesture beyond our routine sacrifices, that opens our hearts to receive this divine mercy.

The Lenten theme of repentance, centered on the conversion of the heart, cannot be explored without a profound reflection on the nature of our hearts themselves. Conversion entails more than a superficial change; it is about allowing our very hearts to be transformed by God’s mercy. When faced with hurt or misunderstanding, for example. our instinct may be to react or to harbor resentment. Yet, what if we chose instead to let that hurt pierce us, leading us to a deeper understanding and to the merciful Presence of God? It is in suffering through the hurt, acknowledging it, and then seeking reconciliation, that we truly experience God’s mercy.

Thus, we must pay special attention to our hearts. Let the challenges and the hurts we encounter not lead us to reactivity, but to a deeper conversion—a transformation fueled by mercy and humility. These virtues are potent remedies against any inclination away from God’s love and the fullness of life He offers. Let us also contemplate the mercy of God, not only as an abstract concept but as a tangible reality manifested in the Sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist. These sacred encounters provide a profound experience of God’s forgiveness and love, drawing us closer to Him and to one another.

Therefore, I invite each of you to ponder: What “extra” can we do this Lent to open our hearts more fully to God’s mercy? How can we embody this mercy in our actions, our thoughts, and our interactions with others?

On a personal note, as you read this letter, I am in Phoenix, Arizona, giving a Retreat to a parish on the theme of God’s mercy, following an invitation from the Vicar for Priests of that diocese, a former colleague of mine in Rome. Subsequently, I will travel to Orange, California, to lead another Retreat for priests and lay leaders of that diocese on the same theme, at the invitation of the Bishop of Orange. Be assured that you are in my prayers during these missions.

I encourage you to save the date for our own Parish Retreat next Saturday with Father Joseph Gibino, Vicar of Evangelization and Catechesis of our diocese. This will be a wonderful opportunity for us to come together as a community and deepen our understanding and experience of God’s merciful love.

With heartfelt prayers and blessings,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham