WALKING BY FAITH TOGETHER | The Catholic Exponent
MOST REV. DAVID J. BONNAR
Bishop of Youngstown
Note: This column is expanded from Bishop Bonnar’s Ash Wednesday homily.
With the Church throughout the whole world, we have entered the holy season of Lent: a time of prayer, fasting, and charitable works. I think many of us probably have images of what these days mean going back to our childhood. Some of these images include journeying into the desert, picking up one’s cross, and offering a sacrifice of one kind or another by giving something up.
Growing up, the religious sisters instilled in me another key image for this season: springtime. Lent is the springtime of one’s soul. Given the winter that we have been enduring, with all the snow and ice and sunless days, I think we all are excited to welcome spring, even the springtime of one’s soul.
With every spring there is something new. This is a new moment for our spiritual life. Spring also engenders many new beginnings and a wealth of opportunities. The Lenten spring is no different. In fact, the Ash Wednesday readings, which were our doorway into this season, highlighted three specific opportunities of these days.
The first opportunity is to come back to God with every fiber of our being. The prophet Joel says, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:12-13). Lent is a time to give our whole hearts to God so that he can clean them, heal them, soften them, and strengthen them. God does not want part of us. He wants all of us. It is very tempting to give our attention to something or someone else at the expense of God.
To give our hearts to God is also to embrace his way for us. Inevitably this means change. The older we become the harder it is to change. I am humbled by two of our priests who recently have accepted a change in assignment at the young age of 68. These men truly understand that Mission involves a continual surrender to God’s plan for us. What is more, mission is always bigger than ourselves and our desire. We can never allow ourselves to become complacent. Change is part of God’s path for us. At the heart of this change is the reality of our hearts being changed through conversion.
The second opportunity is to seek reconciliation in our lives with God and those with whom we are alienated. Saint Paul says, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). In our humanness we can lose our way with God. We can so easily allow sin to win out over grace. Lent is a time to set things right with God and others. One of the best ways we do this is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Lent is incomplete without it. It is tempting for us to miss this part of the Lenten experience because our society has downplayed and rationalized sin. We are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.
Recently Father Jeffrey Kirby, a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, spoke to us priests in a continuing formation online seminar about reconciliation. He reminded us that we are better confessors when we ourselves confess on a regular basis.
The world in which we live is riddled with sin and filled with brokenness. We need only to look at what is happening in the Ukraine or even in our own country to see this evil of sin. Together we can overcome this scourge by responding to God’s healing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
The third opportunity in these 40 days of Lent is to become more genuine in our prayer. We began this season with Jesus warning the disciples to not become hypocrites (Matthew 6:5-6). In other words, he does not want them to reduce their prayer to acting or being fake and just going through motions. We need to aim to be more real and honest in our prayer. The more genuine we are the deeper our relationship can become with God. It is tempting for us to be superficial or inauthentic in our prayer. Remember, God does not want just part of us, he wants our whole self. No one knows us like he knows us.
In my Pastoral Letter, “Testify to the Light,” I named prayer as the first priority in our moving forward together. I stated, “Prayer gives meaning to our lives and all that we are.” I then quoted our Holy Father who in “The Joy of the Gospel” wrote, “Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out. The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer…” (#262)
Soon we will be launching the Eucharistic Revival which will extend for several years, allowing us to grow deeper in authentic prayer, encountering Christ present in the Eucharist. Of all the things we pledge to do in these 40 days, prayer remains at the top of the list. I invite us all to recommit ourselves to the discipline of prayer with God and as a community of faith.
In each of these opportunities we are seeking to become more intentional in our relationship with God which leads to what can be a new image of Lent for us: a springtime for the soul, nurtured by conscious intentionality, allowing us to fall more in love with Jesus who, even in our sinfulness, never tires of loving us.