Letter from Bishop Loverde: Ash Wednesday

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,

The season of Lent will be different this year, because it occurs during a unique time: the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In itself, mercy means a generous, faithful and compassionate goodness. Mercy has a face! According to Pope Francis, "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy" (cf. Misericordiae Vultus, no. 1).

When he announced the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asked that "the season of Lent in this Jubilee Year be lived more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God's mercy" (ibid., no. 17). So, this Lent, we are to experience God's mercy ourselves from God's own Son Jesus Christ and to offer mercy to others, especially to those in real need, whatever the nature of their need. Mercy, then, has another face: the compassion, forgiveness, assistance and care given to our brothers and sisters.

Through more intentional and sustained prayer, we encounter Mercy Incarnate in His Word and through an outward sign in each of the sacraments, especially in Penance and the Holy Eucharist. The Sacrament of Penance is more available in each of our parishes each Wednesday during Lent from 6:30-8:30 p.m. through our participation in The Light is ON for You initiative. Moreover, through the works of penance or mortification, including fasting, we become more freed and more disciplined in order to listen to Christ's Word and to embrace Him in prayer and the sacraments.

Almsgiving - giving generously to those in need - takes on a key focus this Lent, because, in giving alms, we manifest God's mercy. As Pope Francis states so clearly in his message to us this Lent: "In the corporal works of mercy we touch the flesh of Christ in our brothers and sisters who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited: in the spiritual works of mercy - counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer - we find more directly our own sinfulness. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy must never be separated" (cf. Message of His Holiness Pope Francis for Lent 2016, no. 3). One tangible way to practice the corporal works of mercy is taking part in the Rice Bowl initiative sponsored by the United States Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services. It is one way in which we can help to alleviate the scourge of global hunger.

Lent is given to us disciples of Jesus Christ and members of His Body the Church so that we can reclaim our Baptismal dignity and live more authentically as Christ's followers. Lent is the season for us to draw closer to Jesus Christ, Mercy Incarnate, so that we can become and remain "convincing heralds of mercy" (cf. Op. Cit., no. 25) all year long, all life long. Yes, Lent is different this year, as each one of us encounters Jesus Christ, Mercy Incarnate, and, thus transformed, becomes mercy incarnate to everyone we encounter.

Joining you on the road of Lent, I remain,

Faithfully in the Heart of Christ,

Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde

Bishop of Arlington

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016