By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY | Published Thursday, February 14, 2013
Yesterday, we began Lent, one of the most important seasons of the year. It is a time that has its own mystique that is deeply and forever rooted in the tradition of the Church and in our own personal experiences from Lents of the past. While there are many other notable celebrations and times that fill the liturgical calendar, Lent is unique because it touches something so universal in all of us. Lent tends to attract and to inspire many people who are not particularly observant of church attendance as well as an abundant number of those who are quite faithful in their participation in church activities.
From ashes to fasting and increased prayers, this time of year seems to hold special fascination for Catholics of all categories.
Lent allows us to believe that we all can begin anew spiritually if we engage in the three-fold activities of prayer, fasting and works of charity. Those actions will lead us to renewal and to conversion of heart. This season offers hope for all of us that God’s Mercy is eternally available to all those who seek to amend and renew their lives. Lent is a season that is quite dependent upon the virtue of hope.
The Church requires us to observe certain days of fasting and abstinence in preparation for the Easter celebration. Catholics over the age of 14 are to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent. Those of us who are older than 18 but not yet 59 are to fast (taking only one full meal and if needed two smaller meals to maintain our strength and health) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These are the penances that we are to observe together as Catholics during this penitential season.
But what about other penitential activities that we might and are encouraged to adopt as a deeper sign of our spiritual renewal? These are very personal since each one of us knows about activities or practices that constitute a real sign of self-denial. We are all invited to embrace these as ways that we can discipline ourselves as a sign of our desire to respond to God’s invitation for conversion of heart.
Lent is also a time of increased prayer. Many of us pledge to attend daily Mass during Lent—and often we actually manage to fulfill that promise. Our parishes offer other opportunities for prayer during Lent: Stations of the Cross, novenas, and opportunities for devotional prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. The Sacrament of Reconciliation has a special place within the Lenten calendar. This sacramental moment of renewal fits perfectly within the theme and focus of Lent.
This year our priests have agreed to make the sacrament available on Friday, March 22, in all of our parishes. This special time will be in addition to the scheduled penance services that ordinarily take place during Lent. I thank all of our priests for this generous pastoral gesture that seeks to invite our people to encounter the Lord Jesus in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Finally, Lent encourages us all to engage in works of charity. The Archdiocese of Atlanta is a very generous community. I have found the hearts of our people to be clearly directed to caring for the poor. We have so many opportunities to care for those who are needy in our midst—Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, St. Vincent de Paul Society, the mission efforts that many parishes and schools support, and the ecumenical initiatives that we share with other people of faith. These opportunities provide many possible ways to include the poor in our Lenten activities so that they benefit from our concern and we continue to change our own hearts as this season requires.
A blessed Lent to all of you as we prepare to rejoice in the Easter Mystery of Regenerated Life.