Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
We are beginning the second week of Lent, a seven-week season of 40 days that coincides with springtime, the rebirth of nature, and new life which we will see all around us. In this sacred time, the Church also desires that each of us grow spiritually and experience a deepening of our relationship with God. For some of us, it may be an invitation to reawaken that relationship from a state of dormancy or stagnation. No matter where we each find ourselves in the spiritual journey, Lent offers us an opportunity to rekindle our love for God, appreciate more deeply God’s holiness, develop a passion for His Word and His Church, become more aware of personal and corporate sin, practice humility, and grow in righteousness. When taken seriously, the season of Lent can invigorate and deepen a believer’s faith, opening his or her eyes to the truth in a fresh, new way.
Living the discipline of Lent generally involves the strong desire for a fresh start with a clean slate, which marks a new beginning of a life lived in conformity with God’s plan. In a real sense, living seriously the season of Lent will result in a spiritual revival, one that breaks the charm and power of the world which blinds our eyes, and generates both the will and power to live in the world but not of the world. In other words, to live as true disciples of Christ, as people of the Resurrection.
In his message for Lent, Pope Francis reminds us how we have already received God’s new life when we were clothed with Christ on the day of our baptism. We have been reborn in Christ. The season of Lent is a time for exploring the wonder and beauty of our baptismal dignity. It is a time for realizing the importance of our baptismal calling in Christ. It is, ultimately, a time for becoming more like Christ himself.
The purpose of Lent is not to make us feel disheartened or uncomfortable in the way we live out our faith, but it is a call to self-examination and for taking a fresh look at our attitude and behavior towards God and towards others. Often unknown to ourselves, we can little by little become self-centered and lapse into what Pope Francis calls an ‘attitude of indifference. Thus, the penitential nature of Lent, with emphasis on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, is not intended to punish us, but to remind us of our need for God’s grace and of our obligation to put others before ourselves. Awareness of the presence of God surrounding us and of the need to engage in practical acts of charity will ensure that we grow more and more into the person that God calls us to be.
In the last two weeks, we have all been very saddened and distressed by the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. The targeting of civilian areas is especially deplorable. The tragedies of war can appear to overwhelm us and leave us with a sense of helplessness. Yet, there is always something we can do. We must never underestimate the power of our prayer before God. Our baptism into the Body of Christ also does not allow us to pass by on the other side and so ignore the needs and sufferings of our brothers and sisters. While the world has seen the destructive power of weapons used on the people of Ukraine, we faithful can use the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent to bring comfort to these afflicted brothers and sisters.
These are dark days for our world and especially for Ukraine, but there is light in the darkness in the form of generosity and goodness shown to those who have been deprived of so much. In a real sense, we recognize that the Lord who comes to us in the breaking of bread in the Eucharist is the same One who comes to us in the brokenness of others. Having received the Lord in the Eucharist, we are sent out from the Eucharist to receive Him in those who are in need of our help and support. Our Lenten spirituality, after all, is not that far away from the concrete realities of life. It is not something practiced only by a chosen few, but a way of life for every one of Christ’s faithful.
In these somber days of Lent, heightened by the violence and uncertainty in Ukraine, we can so easily be tempted to despondency. Nevertheless, we can at least celebrate the many ways that the Lord is being received and served in so many of our broken brothers and sisters. This generosity is an inspiration to us. I am convinced that, even in times of great difficulty, the seeds of renewal continue to exist in all of us and will eventually bear fruit in those who persevere.
With an assurance of my prayers and blessing through this Lent,
Msgr. Cuong M. Pham