Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
A year ago, as we prepared to celebrate Ash Wednesday and our annual observance of Lent, we were just beginning to come to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic that was quickly enveloping our world. By the end of the Third Sunday of Lent – barely mid-way through this season of conversion and hope – life seemed to come to a standstill. We were forced to embrace traditional Lenten observances in unique ways from our homes instead of in our churches. We struggled to find a way forward in the midst of global suffering, pain and uncertainty.
For me, one of the first glimmers of hope that we experienced during those initial days of the pandemic emerged from a unique and singular moment in the life of our Church that you may recall. On the evening of Friday, March 27, 2020, on the threshold of the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis walked alone into an empty, rain-slicked Saint Peter’s Square for an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi Eucharistic Blessing of the people of the City of Rome and of the entire world.
Reflecting upon the passage from Saint Mark’s gospel that found the disciples in a boat that was being tossed about by an intense storm and Jesus, asleep, with them in the boat, Pope Francis recounted the words of our Savior, “‘Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?’”
The Holy Father continued, “Lord, you are calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. Your call reverberates urgently: ‘Be converted!’ Return to me with all your heart.’”
Brothers and sisters, this Lent the Lord extends the same invitation to us: “Be converted! Return to me with all your heart! Do not be afraid!”
This invitation is even more compelling, given what we have experienced during the past year. While countless numbers of us have known untold physical and emotional pain, loneliness and, in some instances, the grief that comes from the loss of those we love, our very ability to reflect upon the past twelve months is a powerful sign of God’s presence in our lives. Jesus has been and continues to be with us in the midst of the storm, consoling, sustaining and assuring us of his abiding love and mercy.
How vital it is that we use these sacred days of Lent to deepen our relationship with Jesus, who first called us to journey with him through faith! In his 2021 Lenten message to the Church, Pope Francis reflects upon this unique moment in human history, “In these times of trouble, when everything seems fragile and uncertain, it may appear challenging to speak of hope. Yet, Lent is precisely the season of hope, when we turn back to the God who patiently continues to care for his creation.”
Our hope is strengthened and our relationship with Jesus is deepened in a particular way through our embrace of the traditional disciplines of Lent, as noted in the sixth chapter of Saint Matthew’s gospel, proclaimed each year on Ash Wednesday. The simple practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving become profound reflections of our efforts to embrace the example of Jesus’ selfless love in our own lives.
On the First Sunday of Lent, we will once again 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 the 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 baptism. Their “yes” reminds us that we too are called to look beyond ourselves to something more in life.
Finally, one of the great gifts given to us by the Church to assist us in our response to the Lord’s invitation to conversion and renewal is found in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To provide for the celebration of this Sacrament in a generous manner, once again, all of the parishes of the Diocese of Scranton will participate in The Light Is On For You. While ensuring that every effort is made to continue to keep our people safe, on every Monday evening during the Lenten season, beginning on the first Monday of Lent, February 22, and continuing through Monday of the last full week of Lent, March 22, confessions will be heard in every parish from 5:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. – or at a time that best suits the needs of a particular parish community.
My friends, Lent calls us during these challenging times to recognize that God is ever faithful and present, particularly amid the storms that envelop our fragile world and broken lives. May we be humble enough to open our lives to God’s merciful presence and walk with him on a 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