18 February 2018
Dear brothers and sisters,
This past Wednesday we participated in a rite full of symbolism, the imposition of ashes, which contains an urgent call to recognize ourselves as sinners, to rend our hearts as the prophet Joel asked us to do (2:12-17), and to repent and return to the Lord. We were invited to repent and to believe in the Gospel, to embrace the Lord in a radical and irrevocable way, and to search the Word of God for the nourishment of our faith and Christian lives during this holy time.
Lent invites us to let the words of Jesus and His Gospel pierce our hearts, because in this way we come to know the most authentic truth of our lives: who we are, where we come from, where we are going, what is the supreme worth for which we get up every morning, fight, and suffer, and what path we must take in this life so as not to squander or lose something so precious.
It is necessary, therefore, to listen again to the Word of Truth that saves, to live in this Truth, to say and to do the Truth, and to reject the lie that sin always is. Above all, it is necessary to hear the Gospel again in these forty days, the Word of Truth, and to live it and be its witnesses. This is the only possible plan for our Lent.
The holy season of Lent and the austerity of the liturgy of this season offer us an ascetic pathway that should lead us to a transformation of the heart. This pathway leads us through extensive, constant, and peaceful prayer. It leads us through silence and the wilderness, helping us to go within ourselves, recognize our sin, and open our hearts to the merciful love of God. It leads us through fasting and voluntary self-denial that unites us to the Passion of Christ. And it leads us through the giving of alms discreetly, silently, and known only by the Father who sees in secret (Matt. 6:5).
Like Jesus, we are also walking the way of asceticism, inwardness, and prayer that leads us spiritually to Calvary where we meditate upon and relive the central mysteries of our faith. In this way, by celebrating the mystery of the cross, we prepare ourselves to know the joy of the resurrection.
I want to emphasize above all the Christian practice of fasting, which has almost disappeared in many Christian settings these days, even in a time when fasting has been proven as a therapeutic measure, recommended for the care of one’s own body and as a source of health. While not ignoring these natural benefits, Lent also gives us the opportunity to recover the authentic meaning of this ancient penitential practice that helps us to deny ourselves, break the attachments that separate us from God, control our disordered appetites, and be more receptive to the grace of God. Fasting helps to deepen our return to the Lord.
Furthermore, the voluntary practice of fasting allows us to become aware of the way in which many of our brothers and sisters live, almost a third of humanity, who are forced to fast as a result of the unjust distribution of the world’s goods and the neglect of the world’s wealthiest countries. For the ascetic experience of fasting and out of love for God, we must practice fasting as the evangelist Matthew tells us:
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:16-21
We have, then, to rediscover and promote this penitential practice of the primitive Church. In Christian antiquity, the poor were given the fruit of the fast. For this reason, together with the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, listening to the word of God, and self-denial, I ask you all to intensify your personal and communal fasting and to give to the poor through charitable programs, Anglican Charities, and other diocesan programs that help the poor and needy. There are voices today that say that the economic crisis is already over. However, the poor are still with us, in our neighborhoods and our towns.
May God allow us truly to take advantage of this time of grace and salvation and may we not miss out on the blessing that the Lord wants to pour out upon us through these Lenten practices.
In Christ Jesus,
The Rt. Rev. J. Alberto Morales, OSB, DD