Archbishop's column

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

'Before The Cross' by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson. Archbishop Carlson is the ninth Archbishop of Saint Louis. Listed below are the most recent columns written by Archbishop Carlson; click on the title to read the column. The Archdiocesan website has more information about Archbishop Robert J. Carlson.

‘Be not afraid!’

Lenten prayer and fasting

Christ entered into the desert for 40 days to pray and fast.So, too, the heart of our Lenten observance is prayer and fasting.We may ask what connection prayer has with fasting.In fact, the two are inseparable.

The closer we draw to our Lord Jesus in prayer, the more His life becomes the measure of our daily living. When the light of Christ shines within our souls, we naturally restrain our use of material goods so that our every action may reflect our communion with Christ in prayer.In other words, once our poor and sinful heart has been placed, by the work of God’s grace, into the Sacred Heart of Jesus, our heart desires to be purified of any disordered affection or attachment.Purification of the heart comes through fasting. The person who is praying with a sincere heart is necessarily also fasting.His or her heart, united to the Heart of Jesus, will not have it otherwise.

Our Lord Jesus was perfectly one in mind and heart with God the Father.His journey into the desert to pray and fast expressed His perfect communion with the Father, as He was beginning His public ministry. We desire to be one in mind and heart with God the Father, in Christ, but we are aware of affections and attachments which keep us from loving God with all our heart. Conscious of the poverty and sinfulness of our hearts, we have heard Christ’s call to be perfect in love as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).For us, the Lenten journey of prayer and fasting expresses the communion which we have already with God the Father, while it helps us to grow in communion with the Father by the purification of our hearts.By fasting, in particular, we address anything in our heart which we have kept from Christ, from the light of His perfect love.

Fasting and purification

While prayer uncovers for us our sinfulness, fasting purifies us of the affections and attachments which lead us to sin.Sometimes we are too attached to material things like food, drink, money or our other possessions in all their variety.They are good in themselves, but, when we fail to master their use for the sake of loving God and our neighbor, they become the occasion of sin for us. We, therefore, need to restrain our use of the goods which we, in fact, are abusing because of our disordered attraction or attachment to them.Fasting centers around our use of food, but it disciplines us for the restrained use of every good so that we may have fuller communion with God and with one another.

Our fasting also leads us to consider excessive or wrong attachments to immaterial things like thoughts, hurt feelings and sentiments of affection.They may be good in themselves, but, when we fail to discipline them for the sake of love of God and neighbor, they become the occasion of sin for us.For example, an attachment to a hurt feeling because of an offense committed against us can lead us to the serious sin of hatred and the refusal of forgiveness.

Some thoughts and affections may be disordered in themselves, for example, the thought of stealing something desirable that is not ours.Fasting disciplines our mind and heart, so that we may purify ourselves of disordered thoughts and desires and of the exaggerated attachment to certain thoughts and sentiments.

Law of fasting

In order that we understand the essential need of fasting in our lives, the Church prescribes a minimum discipline for our Lenten fast.The minimum is intended to lead us to a program of regular fasting in our lives to be purified in our love.Recall that the fourth precept of the Church: "You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 2043).Fasting is an integral part of our life in Christ.It is centered in a fundamental good which we use daily, food, but it is meant to lead us to consider our use of all God’s good gifts, with purity of mind and heart, in love of God and each other.

We distinguish fasting — eating less food than we usually do — from abstinence — abstaining from meat in our eating. But both are part of our Lenten fast.We are obliged to fast, that is, to eat only one full meal, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.We abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent.By these minimum acts of fasting,
the Church forms in us a habit of fasting, which keeps us alert to our use of all God’s gifts at all times.

Fasting and the new evangelization

Christ fortified Himself for His public ministry by prayer and fasting.During Lent, we imitate Him by fortifying ourselves for the work of the new evangelization by prayer and fasting.The challenges to Christian living in our time are great.They can only be met with the help of God’s grace, which He showers upon us when we turn to Him in prayer and seek to love to Him more perfectly by fasting.

As we enter the last weeks of Lent and prepare for the celebration of the Sacred Triduum, I ask you to look again at your practice of fasting, especially as it expresses your life of prayer.May your practice of fasting and abstinence, as prescribed by the Church’s discipline, dispose you to purify your heart daily for a more perfect love of God and your neighbor.

‘Be not afraid!’

Lenten Prayer and Devotions

Prayer, the heart of our Lenten observance, includes the devotional life. By the devotional life, I mean the customary ways in which we deepen our knowledge and love of Christ, above all, as He gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist. The devotional life takes on a special significance in carrying out the work of the new evangelization, to which our Lenten observance is directed.

The new evangelization is the teaching and living of our Catholic faith in a culture which is totally secularized or, to use the term of Pope Paul VI, "dechristianized." It is teaching and living our faith, as if for the first time, as the first Christians and the first missionaries to our continent taught and lived the faith among those who had never heard of Christ or His Church. Our culture can no longer be considered Christian because it does not recognize the essential role of religious faith in civic life and no longer respects the natural moral law.

The devotional life reminds us of the daily demands of our life in Christ, while we live in a culture which denies Christ and is even hostile to His teaching. The devotional life focuses our minds and hearts on Christ’s dwelling with us, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Two devotions, very closely connected to each other, keep us attentive to our Lord Jesus and to the mystery of the outpouring of His life for our salvation on Calvary and in the Holy Eucharist.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Rooted in the Holy Scriptures and practiced in a variety of ways throughout the Christian centuries, the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus reminds us that our Lord Jesus never ceases to pour out upon us the sevenfold grace of the Holy Spirit from His glorious Pierced Heart. The devotion was fostered and strengthened, in a wonderful way, through the apparitions of our Lord Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century.

The essence of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is our response to the piercing of the Heart of Jesus on Calvary. The pierced Heart of Jesus is a permanent invitation for us to place our sinful and poor hearts into the Sacred Heart. The devotion to the Sacred Heart helps us to lift up our hearts to our Lord Jesus throughout the day, overcoming, with the help of His grace, the temptation to sin and finding in Him the strength to love as He loves.

The practice of enthroning the image of the Sacred Heart in our homes and places of work reminds us to draw grace from the glorious Heart of Jesus throughout the day.The enthroned image of the Sacred Heart becomes the center of our home and our work, the place which recalls to mind that our Lord Jesus alone is the King of our hearts.

The Season of Lent is a wonderful time for individuals and families to prepare for the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is fittingly celebrated during the Sacred Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, on Easter Sunday, or during the Octave of Easter. If you desire more information about the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in your home or place of work, I urge you to obtain a copy of "The Enthronement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus," published by the Archdiocese.

Devotion to the Divine Mercy

Pope John Paul the Great strongly promoted the devotion to the Divine Mercy, which our Lord gave us through St. Faustina Kowalska in the last century.In a time when so many had grown forgetful of God and, therefore, had despaired of His mercy and love, our Lord Jesus appeared to St. Faustina, urging us to place our complete trust in Him.

St. Faustina taught us to pray, especially at the hour of our Lord’s Passion and Death, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, returning us to the source of our salvation in Jesus Christ and our share with Him in the work of salvation.She also taught us to observe the Novena, beginning on Good Friday, to prepare for the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday. The devotion to the Divine Mercy, like the devotion to the Sacred Heart, helps us to keep our minds and hearts focused on the mystery of our Redemption.

If you are not familiar with the devotion to the Divine Mercy, I urge you to use the weeks of our Lenten observance to begin praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy daily.I also encourage you to observe the Novena of Divine Mercy.

Devotion to our Lord and His Passion

Both the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the devotion to the Divine Mercy are privileged ways of coming to know more fully our Lord’s love for us and express more fully our love for Him in return.Both devotions keep us in communion with our Lord in His Suffering and Dying, so that we unite our suffering and dying with Him, as an act of total love of God and neighbor.

These two devotions are privileged means to enter more sincerely into the Passion of our Lord, taking up, with Him, the Cross, pouring out, with Him, mercy and love which knows no boundaries. May your Lenten observance be the occasion for you to grow in devoted love of our Lord, of His Passion and His Dying, especially through devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Divine Mercy.

‘Be not afraid’

Lenten prayer and the Holy Eucharist

The new evangelization, for which our Lenten observance renews and strengthens us, is, first of all, a work of prayer.Prayer draws us to Christ, to His pierced Heart, from which we, in turn, draw the inspiration and courage to live in Christ in a culture which has grown forgetful of Him or has never known Him.Without prayer, our work of the new evangelization will utterly fail, for we cannot bring Christ to others if we are not first in loving communication with Him in prayer and, above all, through participation in the Holy Eucharist.It is through prayer that we, first, draw others to Christ and assist them to know and love Him.

Lenten prayer teaches us to center all our prayer in the Holy Eucharist, through which we are truly united with Christ in His suffering and dying.Through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we come to know Christ most perfectly and have the fullest communion possible with Him on this earth.In the Holy Eucharist, Christ manifests to us, in the most wonderful way imaginable, the immeasurable love of God the Father for us. As Pope John Paul the Great reminded us, the Holy Eucharist makes one the Sacred Triduum of our Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection, and our time.

In the Holy Eucharist, Christ not only manifests the love of God the Father but also gives us the gift of Divine Love.It is the gift of God’s love poured forth into our hearts which inspires and fortifies us to bring all our brothers and sisters to Christ and to the salvation which He alone has won for us.

Through our Lenten prayer, we discipline and train ourselves to live in the company of Christ throughout each day.Our Lenten prayer, in other words, forms us in a way of living which is a faithful expression of our encounter with Christ and our communion with Him in the Holy Eucharist.

Stations of the Cross

The Stations or Way of the Cross is a fundamental Lenten prayer.Through the praying of the Stations, we accompany our Lord along the way of His cruel Passion and Death.As we meditate briefly at each of the stops or stations along the way to Calvary, we ponder what it meant for our Lord Jesus to take our human flesh, to suffer and to die for love of us.The Stations of the Cross open up for us, in a most concrete manner, the immensity of God’s love for us.It is helpful to recall that this venerable Lenten prayer has its origin in the pilgrimage of Christians to Jerusalem, in order to walk, in prayer, the very way by which our Lord won our salvation.Since many Christians are unable to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the Church developed the Way of the Cross over the centuries so that all Christians can mystically make pilgrimage to the places of our Lord’s suffering and dying.

Praying the Stations means identifying ourselves with Christ in His suffering and dying.As we stop to pray at each station, we see the reflection of our own life in Christ.The Way of the Cross is our way of life, our way to eternal life.In a particular way, this most venerated prayer of the Church helps us to understand and embrace the mystery of suffering in our lives, as our Lord Jesus embraced the mystery of His Passion and Death.Meditating on the individual station, we pray that we may follow Christ by pouring out our lives in selfless love of God and of our neighbor.

I urge you to take part in the public praying of the Way of the Cross in your parish during Lent. A plenary indulgence is granted to those who participate in this public devotion, under the usual conditions.Also, when possible, make a visit to your parish church to walk the Way of the Cross with our Lord, using one of the many excellent booklets for praying the Stations or simply speaking to our Lord in your words.When you are unable to pray the Stations in church, it is also possible to pray them at home, using the images of the stations in your book of prayers.

The Holy Rosary

The Rosary is another fundamental form of Lenten prayer.When we pray the Rosary, we go to the side of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus and our Blessed Mother, to contemplate with her the mysteries of our salvation.The repeated praying of the Hail Mary focuses our attention on the great mystery of the Redemptive Incarnation, that is, the sending of God the Son in our human flesh to suffer and die for our salvation, to which all of the mysteries point and in which they all find their fulfillment.

When we pray through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, she always leads us to her Divine Son, to a more perfect knowledge of Him and to a more faithful love and service of Him.When we pray the Rosary, we are like the wine stewards at the Wedding Feast of Cana, who go to the Mother of Jesus to seek help in their need.She, in response, sends us to Jesus with the confident instruction: "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).In our Lenten praying of the Rosary, we, with Mary, go to Jesus and He tells us: "If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me" (Luke 9:23).

The praying of the Rosary prepares us to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, for it opens our minds and hearts in wonder before the mystery of Christ’s life poured out for us in the Holy Mass.The devotion of the Rosary disposes us to "active participation" in the Holy Mass.At the same time, the Rosary helps us to bring forth faithfully the fruit of our communion with our Lord throughout the minutes and hours of our daily living.Meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary, we return throughout the day to the great mystery of our life in Christ, thanks to His Death on Calvary, which He unfailingly makes present for us in the offering of the Holy Mass: "This is My Body, which will be given up for you ...This is the cup of My Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant.It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven" (Roman Missal).

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving

The praying of the Stations of the Cross and of the Holy Rosary inspires our Lenten fasting, the discipline of our use of food and other material goods, in accord with our identity in Christ. Our Lenten prayer helps us to avoid the temptation to fast as a merely external observance without the deeply interiorly desire to become more Christlike, to radiate His love in the world.

These premier Lenten prayers also are the inspiration of our almsgiving.Contemplating the way of our Lord’s Passion and Death, and all the mysteries which find their fulfillment in His suffering and dying, we are led to acts of selfless love.Our Lenten prayer, if it is sincere, leads us to sacrifice ourselves, to give from our very substance to help our brothers and sisters in most need.

Next week, I will continue my reflection on Lenten prayer by reflecting upon the devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Divine Mercy.

‘Be not afraid’

The Sermon on the Mount and our Lenten observance

After our Lord had spent 40 days in the desert, fasting and praying, He began His public ministry.He called the Apostles, and then presented the summary of His teaching to the many who had gathered to hear Him.We refer to His teaching on that occasion as the Sermon on the Mount.It is the point of reference for our Christian living throughout a lifetime.

At the conclusion of the first part of the sermon, our Lord declares the meaning of His teaching for our daily lives.He states simply: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).In other words, our Lord came to share with us the very life which He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit.Recipients of Christ’s life, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation, we are called to holiness of life, to meet what Pope John Paul the Great so aptly termed "the high standard of ordinary Christian living."The grace of Christ within us does not permit us, in our daily living, to settle for "a minimalist ethic" or "a shallow religiosity" (Pope John Paul II).No, we are called to become, day by day, holy as God is holy (cf. Leviticus 19:2).

In the second part of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord Jesus sets forth the threefold way in which we cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit Who leads us, as He led our Lord, into the desert of Lent to renew and strengthen us for Christ’s mission of the new evangelization.The new evangelization can succinctly and rightly be described as "bringing the holiness of God to our world."Our Lord teaches us the threefold way of becoming holy as God is holy, namely, the way of almsgiving, prayer and fasting (Matthew 6:1-18).Our Lenten observance directed to the purification and strengthening of our life in Christ is, therefore, defined by Christ’s threefold way of holiness.

Prayer and holiness

The three aspects of Christ’s way of holiness are integral to our growth in the likeness of Christ.Each aspect relates directly to the other two.Prayer, communication with God in mind and heart, is the most fundamental aspect.It is the spiritual engine of fasting and almsgiving.By lifting our minds and hearts to God in prayer, we come to know Him, are attracted to His infinite goodness, and are inspired and strengthened to imitate His goodness by fasting and almsgiving.

During Lent, therefore, we give special attention, first of all, to our relationship with God, that is, to the way we pray.In the Sermon on the Mount, Our Lord stresses very much that prayer must be the opening of our heart to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the lifting of our heart to place it totally into the glorious Pierced Heart of Jesus.Our prayer seeks to bring the truth and love of the Holy Spirit into every dimension of our lives, into every part, even the smallest of parts, of our minds and hearts.

Our Lord admonishes us that our prayer should reflect the sincerity of our love of God and neighbor and, therefore, be purified of all hypocrisy.He then teaches us the Our Father, the model of all our prayers (Matthew 6:5-14).In a true sense, we can examine the sincerity of our praying by measuring it with the standard of the Our Father.

Prayer and Our Lord’s Passion

All prayer is the lifting of our hearts to the Pierced Heart of Jesus.In the Heart of Jesus, we meet God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — and know His immeasurable love of us.Prayer is communion with our Lord in His Passion, which reached its culmination in the piercing of His Sacred Heart after He had died for us on the Cross.

We say that our Lenten prayer draws its inspiration and strength from the Passion of Christ.In truth, every prayer we make, if it is made in Christ, identifies us with Christ in the outpouring of His life in love of God and neighbor.The words of the Our Father express our communion with Christ in His obedience to the Father’s will that He pour out His life for the salvation of all men: "Thy Kingdom come.Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).Our prayer inspires and fortifies us to do the will of God, that is, to pour out our lives in love of God and neighbor.

Particular Lenten prayers

The Holy Eucharist is clearly the most perfect expression of our prayer and, therefore, of our Lenten observance.It is real communion with Christ in His Sacrifice, in the outpouring of His life for us on Calvary.A good Lenten observance always deepens our love of the Holy Eucharist and our desire to participate in the Holy Mass more consciously and actively.Throughout Lent, we pay special attention to the manner in which we participate in Sunday Mass.

We strive to discipline better our regular preparation for Sunday Mass.Also, as much as possible, we take part in daily Mass.

The Stations of the Cross and the rosary, and the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Divine Mercy are particular fonts of Lenten grace for us, because they draw us to the Passion of our Lord.Next week, I will reflect on these prayers and devotions in the context of our Lenten observance and the threefold way of holiness of life: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

‘Be not afraid’

Christ the Good Shepherd

We have entered the season of Lent with Christ our Good Shepherd.Even as our Lord Jesus went into the desert for 40 days to fast and pray in preparation for His public ministry of evangelization, so also He leads us, each year, to devote the 40 days of Lent to more intense prayer, fasting and almsgiving.Through the 40 days of Lent, we purify and strengthen the discipline of our daily lives so that we may more effectively carry out, with Christ, the new evangelization.

Our Lenten observance naturally deepens our appreciation of the richness of God’s grace given to us in the Church, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.In particular, we grow in appreciation of how Christ shepherds us in the Church through those called to act in His person as Head and Shepherd of the flock in every community of His faithful.Conscious of our individual call to holiness of life, to meet "the high standard of ordinary Christian living" (Pope John Paul II), we recognize the irreplaceable role of our shepherds in offering the Eucharistic Sacrifice for us, in absolving us of our sins, in teaching and encouraging us through the Sunday homily, in guiding our parish, in pastoral care given to us individually and in a host of other ways.During Lent, the service of the Good Shepherd, guiding us to greater holiness of life, inspires us with new enthusiasm and new energy for our Catholic faith and its practice.

Two events of the past 10 days have underlined for me the immeasurable goodness of the Good Shepherd in providing for us shepherds after His own Heart.The events in question have been especially inspiring for
me, as I trust that they are for you.

Priesthood discernment retreat

From Friday evening, Feb. 17, through Sunday afternoon, Feb. 19, 39 men gathered with me at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary for a spiritual retreat.All of them are hearing, to some degree, the call to the ordained priesthood and wanted to spend time in prayer and reflection, to know God’s will more perfectly in their lives.They rightly looked to me as their shepherd to help them in discerning Christ’s call in their lives.

The men who gathered included high school seniors, men in university studies and men already exercising some profession or other work.They quickly bonded with one another through their common love of Christ and His priestly ministry and through their desire to answer Christ’s call in their lives.They also quickly bonded with our seminarians who were their hosts and to whom they look as brothers responding to Christ’s call.It is a particular gift for me to be able to host the priesthood discernment retreat, an annual event, at our archdiocesan seminary, in which the men who are called to the priesthood will receive their preparation for priestly ordination and ministry.

I offered four spiritual conferences on the priestly vocation, on what it means to be called to the ordained priesthood and how one responds to Christ’s call to put aside our fears and become "fishers of men" (Luke 5:10).Also, I met with each man individually to discuss his hearing of Christ’s call.What struck me about all of the men was their generous willingness to leave everything behind to follow Christ the Good Shepherd.Thanks be to God, the greater part of the men who participated in the priesthood discernment retreat are already making application to enter Kenrick-Glennon Seminary or plan to do so within the coming year.Also, some are making plans to enter a religious community of priests.

At the conclusion of the weekend, I could not thank our Lord Jesus enough for His call at work in the lives of so many good men of the archdiocese.I write to you about the retreat, so that you may know more fully how our Lord is at work to provide shepherds for us.Also, I ask you to pray daily for the men who are hearing Christ’s call to the priesthood.

Pope John Paul II Residence for Priests

On Sunday, Feb. 26, I blessed the new Pope John Paul II Residence for Priests at St. Agnes Home in Kirkwood. Through the collaboration of the Carmelite Sisters of the Divine Heart of Jesus and with the help of generous benefactors, a wing of St. Agnes Home has been renovated to provide apartments for 10 retired priests.In addition to the apartments, there are common areas for the priests to visit with each other and to welcome visitors. The residence includes access to the choir loft of the beautiful chapel at St. Agnes Home, so that the priests may pray before our Lord Jesus in the tabernacle at any hour of the day or night.The Pope John Paul II Residence is an extension of the work of Regina Cleri, the central archdiocesan residence for our retired priests.

The dedication of the new residence for retired priests is a source of special joy for the whole archdiocese.We thank God that the archdiocese is able to provide a residence for those who give their lives to shepherd us.Fittingly, it is a residence in which they can enjoy priestly fraternity, can continue to assist others spiritually, as they are able, and are helped to follow the spiritual life and practices that have inspired and strengthened them throughout their priestly life. I hope that you will have occasion to visit the Pope John Paul II Residence for Priests at St. Agnes Home.

Conclusion

The priesthood discernment retreat and the blessing of the Pope John Paul II Residence have led me, as we begin our Lenten observance, to reflect on Christ’s gift of shepherds, after His own Heart. In the first event, I witnessed the call of Christ coming to men and beckoning them to the seminary. In the second event, I saw the abundant fruit of Christ’s call in the lifelong response of our retired priests.

Christ calls men to follow Him as Head and Shepherd of the flock, so that all of us may grow in holiness of life, may carry out the new evangelization, may meet the "high standard of ordinary Christian living," for the sake of our salvation and the salvation of the world. May the days of Lent deepen our gratitude for the priestly ministry and increase the generosity of our response to Christ the Good Shepherd who never fails to teach, sanctify and guide us in the Church.

‘Be not afraid’

Desert and evangelization

When Christ began His public ministry of announcing the Kingdom, His ministry of evangelization, He immediately journeyed into the desert for 40 days, to fast andpray (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13).By so doing, He gave us an example of how we, too, must prepare ourselves for the challenge of the new evangelization, of living the Gospel day by day, of meeting the "high standard of ordinary Christian living" (Pope John Paul II).Because prayer and fasting are essential to our life in Christ, our Lord gives us an annual time of strong grace in the Church, Lent.During the 40 days of our Lenten journey with Him into the desert, He purifies us of disordered thoughts, desires and actions, so that our love of God and neighbor may be more like His, may be more pure.

Traditional Lenten penance consists of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.Our Lenten penance addresses the entirety of our life, so that, with the help of God’s grace, we may become more like Christ in everything we think and say and do.

Prayer

Through our Lenten prayer, we deepen our relationship with God. Christ leads us to make prayer once again the foundation and inspiration of our daily living.If we are to be Christ’s co-workers in announcing the Gospel, then we, like Christ, must be in daily communication with God the Father.We must pray daily and throughout the day.

Through our Lenten prayer, we make Sunday Mass and daily Mass, if possible, the center of our lives and the source from which our daily prayer and devotional life flow.Our sincere Lenten observance makes us attentive to all of our prayers and devotions, so that they really are a turning of our minds and hearts to God the Father.

Fasting

In the desert of Lent, we are able to look at our stewardship of the material goods which God has given to us for the sake of the Kingdom, for the sake of giving Him glory by serving our brothers and sisters in sacrificial love.In the desert, we come to understand that no material object brings us lasting happiness.Only day-to-day love of God and service of God brings us lasting joy and peace, a joy and peace that no trial or test, no matter how great, can take away.

By our abstinence and fasting from the use of certain foods, we are given grace to see how our use of all God’s manifold gifts may serve better the good of all.Fasting helps us to clarify our vision, our thinking, which can be clouded or confused by the completely secularized culture in which we live.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Message for Lent 2006, reminds us that our good and the good of the world is found in Christ alone, in His victory over evil.Fasting draws us closer to Christ in making reparation for our sins and the sins of the world, and in seeking the good of every brother and sister, without boundary or exception.

In a particular way, our more frequent access to the Sacrament of Penance during Lent helps us to unite our hearts to the Pierced Heart of Jesus, seeking in Him — in the outpouring of His Holy Spirit into our souls — the victory over evil in our lives and in our world.It is not by accident that the sacrament by which our sins are forgiven is called Penance.Only a heart that has been opened and purified through prayer and fasting can be filled with the mercy and love of God, flowing from the Heart of Jesus.

Almsgiving

Finally, almsgiving leads us to a purer relationship with one another.In a striking way, Pope Benedict XVI, in his Message for Lent 2006, urges us to imitate the mercy of God, the Divine Mercy,which overcomes all evil in our personal lives and in our world.The mercy of God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, overcomes in us every tendency to deny respect to a brother or sister, or to a class of brothers and sisters.

Once again, our secularized culture teaches us that our goods are "ours." In truth, they are God’s gift to us for the service of Him and one another.The Lenten penance of almsgiving leads us to place ourselves and our goods more at the service of our brothers and sisters who are in need.The theme which Pope Benedict XVI chose for his Lenten message reminds us that almsgiving, in a pre-eminent way, expresses our oneness with Christ in looking upon our brothers and sisters and being moved with pity.

Conclusion

May the observance of the holy season of Lent lead you closer to our Lord Jesus Christ and strengthen your witness to Him in your daily living.With Pope Benedict XVI, I confide our observance of Lenten penance in the archdiocese to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, under her title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.When our Blessed Mother visited our continent in 1531, she declared the sole intention of her appearances, namely, to lead us to God’s merciful love, incarnate in her Divine Son.May Our Lady of Guadalupe lead us to her Son, so that, through the days of Lent we may faithfully accompany Him in the desert of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. May she lead us to her Son, so that, with Him, we may carry out our mission of the new evangelization.

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