Lent: Prayer, fasting, almsgiving

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,

As we begin our annual retreat called Lent, I urge us to reflect upon and make our own the counsel of Pope Francis in his Lenten Message for 2015. "During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters let us all ask the Lord: 'Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum.' Make our hearts like yours (Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference" (Lenten Message, No.3).

Why does Pope Francis urge us to seek hearts that are like Christ's? With hearts like His, we will recognize and address the needs of our neighbors. "Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians" (Ibid., Introduction). How are our own hearts converted so that zeal replaces indifference? In the Gospel account proclaimed on Ash Wednesday, the Lord Jesus gives us the time-tested formula of prayer, fasting and other forms of penance, and almsgiving.

In the first place, prayer. "First, we can pray in communion with the Church on earth and in heaven. Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices united in prayer …" (Ibid., No. 2). Daily prayer at home; participating in weekday celebrations of the Holy Mass; receiving Divine Mercy in the Sacrament of Penance and devotional practices, like the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross: These become the power of voices united in prayer.

Secondly, fasting and other forms of penance. By these various penitential acts, we acquire strength to turn back to the Lord and to put to death our selfishness so as to be generous in reaching out to others.

Thirdly, almsgiving, that is "… acts of charity, reaching out to both those near and far through the Church's many charitable organizations" (Ibid., No.3). Among these charitable works is the Rice Bowl Initiative, in which I urge you to participate, thereby helping the needy both within the diocese and beyond. Support of our diocesan Catholic Charities also provides us with another tangible way to give hope to the needy. As we reach out to others, our parishes and communities will "become islands of mercy in the midst of the sea of indifference" (Ibid., No. 2).

Brothers and Sisters, I join you in our Lenten retreat, imploring the Lord Jesus to form our hearts like His! May we emerge at the Lent's end as people whose hearts beat with the love of Jesus!

Faithfully in the Heart of Christ,

Most Reverend Paul S. Loverde

Bishop of Arlington

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015