Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Every year on Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel sets the stage for the sacred season of Lent. “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Joel 2:12-13)
The prophet challenges us to reflect upon the essence of our lives as Christians and as authentic disciples of Jesus. He reminds us that pious actions and rituals, from the ancient practice of rending garments to express sorrow for sin, to the imposition of ashes on our foreheads, provide little support for our lives of faith unless they are rooted in – and flow from – the depths of our hearts where God is found.
Rather, the humble acknowledgement of our need for God – the courage to set aside our own sense of righteousness in order to trust more deeply in God’s merciful presence – and the willingness to be used by God in building the Church and in caring for the suffering, broken world in which we live reflect the movements of our hearts that lead to true conversion.
Ash Wednesday and Lent, by their very nature, provide experiences for prayer and reflection to support us in the noble endeavor of conversion. This year’s celebration is no exception, as the Church provides us with two blessed opportunities that have the power to fortify us in our resolve to become one with Christ and to participate in the proclamation of his message of salvation.
This past year on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – Corpus Christ Sunday – the Church in the United States initiated a three-year period of Eucharistic Revival. Its purpose is to both restore and refresh our understanding of this great mystery of our faith in which Jesus, our Savior and Lord, is truly present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist – his very Body and Blood. In announcing this time of revival, the Bishops of our land envisioned that it would lead to “a movement of Catholics across the United States, healed, converted, formed and unified by an encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist – and sent out in mission ‘for the life of the world.’”
In so many ways, the vision of this Eucharistic Revival reflects the heart of the season of Lent. I would encourage you, then, to take advantage of the times that have been set aside in your parish communities for Eucharistic adoration. Like no other experience, prayer in the presence of our Eucharistic Lord has the power to change our lives and to fill us with the peace that only God can give. In gratitude for the singular gift of the Eucharist in the life of the Church, I will 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.
The second opportunity that the Church provides for our Lenten journey builds upon the first and our encounter with Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Several years ago, Pope Francis announced that a Synod of Bishops would convene at the Vatican in October 2023, the theme of which will be For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission.
In focusing upon the notion of synodality, the Holy Father reminds us that by virtue of our Baptism into Christ, all of us are called to be active participants in the life of the Church through discernment, participation and co-responsibility.
During the last year, thousands of you responded to the call of Pope Francis by sharing your hopes, concerns and dreams for the Catholic Church in preparation for the 2023 General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Yet, far from being a temporary or one-time experience in calling the Church to participate in the Synod process, the Holy Father has asserted repeatedly that the very mission of the Church requires the entire People of God – you and me – to be on a journey together, with each member playing his or her crucial role in building up the Body of Christ, united with each other. Nothing captures the spirit of our Lenten sojourn more than this!
Brothers and sisters, the season of Lent provides us with many grace-filled opportunities to grow in our faith. May we use these days well as we walk together with our brothers and sisters preparing for Baptism and full initiation into the Church. Like them, may we renew our commitment to change our hearts, through the healing gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. May we be filled with awe and comforted by Jesus’ presence in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist – strengthened for mission – and ready to assume our responsibility in proclaiming the mercy and love of Christ for our world. In so doing, we will surely find our way to life and peace.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton