Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In his 2024 Lenten message to the Church, Pope Francis invites us to reflect upon the desert experience that is so prevalent in the life of Jesus and throughout the sacred scriptures. “Lent is the season of grace in which the desert can become once more – in the words of the prophet Hosea – the place of our first love (cf. Hos 2:16-17). God shapes his people, he enables us to leave our slavery behind and experience a Passover from death to life.” 

Jesus is depicted carrying his cross in a mosaic of the second station of the Stations of the Cross at St. Thomas More Church on the campus of St. John’s University in Jamaica, N.Y. (OSV News photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Essentially, the sacred season of Lent encourages us to step apart from the frenetic pace of life that has consumed us and to reflect – in the desert of our hearts – what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and to embrace his life and saving grace.  In the midst of a world fraught with upheaval and pain as a result of wars, political and social polarization, and far too many “isms” and “phobias” that have proliferated throughout the globe, resulting in discrimination, hatred, pain and suffering, we need to step apart to assess our own role in contributing to the breakdown of peace and respect for the lives that God has placed within our own.  “If our celebration of Lent is to be fruitful,” Pope Francis asserts, “the first step is to desire to open our eyes to reality.”

In the liturgy of Ash Wednesday every year, we listen to the words of the prophet Joel, who sets the stage not only for the season of Lent but for our response to the Lord’s call to discipleship.  And he does so by challenging us to change our lives – not merely by performing religious gestures and practices – but by peering intensely into our hearts to insure that our spirit is honest and pure and open to the transforming power and presence of God.  Saint Matthew, in that same liturgy, reinforces the words of the prophet as he calls us to pray, fast, and to give alms in support of the poor – not because such behavior will make us righteous – but because such acts for the true follower of Jesus are simply the consequence of faithful lives rooted in Jesus, who teaches us how best to live.

Pope Francis puts these three pillars of our lives as followers of Jesus into perspective. “Today, the cry of so many of our oppressed brothers and sisters rises to heaven. Let us ask ourselves: Do we hear that cry? Does it trouble us? Does it move us?  …  It is time to act.  …  Love of God and love of neighbour are one love.  …  For this reason, prayer, almsgiving and fasting are not three unrelated acts, but a single movement of openness and self-emptying, in which we cast out the idols that weigh us down, the attachments that imprison us. …  In the presence of God, we become brothers and sisters, more sensitive to one another.  In place of threats and enemies, we discover companions and fellow travelers. This is God’s dream, the promised land to which we journey once we have left our slavery behind.” 

By providing greater opportunities for prayer and reflection, Lent then becomes both a time for personal conversion and a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ as it challenges us to consider the gift and blessing of the Sacrament of Baptism in our lives. 

On the First Sunday of Lent, we will welcome catechumens into the ranks of the elect; those from our midst who have begun the journey of conversion and who will soon experience the saving power of Jesus in the Easter mysteries of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist.  Their “yes” to the Lord’s call gives us hope and should encourage us to recommit ourselves to the vows that were made at our own baptisms.  Their “yes” reminds us that we too are called to look beyond ourselves to something more in life. 

As we continue to give thanks for the singular gift of God’s presence in the Holy Eucharist during the third year of Eucharistic Revival in our land, I will once again celebrate a Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament in each of our twelve deaneries throughout the weeks of Lent.  I look forward to praying with many of you as we seek God’s healing grace. 

Finally, I encourage all of us to avail ourselves of the Lord’s mercy and healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

My friends, in the desert of our hearts, Lent calls us to reflect upon our relationship with God and to recognize that God is ever faithful and present, particularly amid the challenges that envelop our broken world and fragile lives.  May we be humble enough to open our lives to God’s merciful presence and walk with him on the life-giving journey of conversion and renewal. 

Please know of my prayers for a fruitful observance of Lent.

Faithfully yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton