Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart with fasting, and weeping and mourning. (Joel 2:12)
We recognize that every year the Season of Lent holds the promise of many graces and blessings for the People of God. I am convinced, however, that the observance of Lent this year is as critical as it has ever been. There are many reasons for us to “fast, weep and mourn,” many reasons that call us to “return to the Lord with our whole heart.”
The Season of Lent this year takes place in a profoundly troubled world. We are pained as we witness the brutal war in Ukraine. The global pandemic has resulted in the loss of many lives, disrupted our normal routines, divided communities, and led to personal anxiety and depression. Our political system is broken, hopelessly deadlocked in predictable partisan bickering. Our nation continues its relentless assault on innocent, unborn children in the “abominable crime” of abortion. Violent crime is on the rise in many of our cities, often targeting innocent bystanders, including children. Traditional moral values related to marriage and family, human sexuality and biology, are being challenged and discarded every day. The Church is shaken and saddened by new accusations of past incidents of sexual abuse of minors. And people everywhere are on edge, ready to picket and protest, fight and sue at every offense, real or perceived.
In surveying this depressing litany of societal and communal woes, I cannot help but think that God must be very disappointed and angry with us, his children.
At the same time, we shouldn’t forget that the real moral challenge, the ultimate struggle for grace and peace, takes place in our own hearts and souls. Thus while we despair of the bleak landscape that engulfs us, we also need to look within; we need a brutally honest recognition of our own temptations, faults and sins. The neglect of God; the anger, arrogance, apathy, selfishness, dishonesty, impurity, addictions, and judgmental racist attitudes we find in the darkest recesses of our soul are gravely sinful. If left unchecked they grow like weeds and destroy the life within us. “My offenses, truly I know them; my sin is before me always,” we confess with the Psalmist. (Ps 51:5)
Yes, I am convinced that the observance of Lent this year is as critical as it has ever been. As a people and as individuals we need to be purified, restored and renewed by the cleansing power of God’s grace!
The Season of Lent gives us all the tools we need to do better, in our world and our lives. The pillars of Lent – prayer, fasting and charitable works – help us to confront temptation, repent of our sins, be reconciled to God, and begin again. But the spiritual resources of Lent are effective only if we use them well. It is for that reason that I call the Church in the Diocese of Providence to embrace the season of Lent like never before. It is so important! “,” St. Paul exhorts us. (2 Cor 6:1)
I urge our pastors to lead the faithful in a serious and full observance of Lent. Dear fathers, do your best to reach out to your people, welcome them home, provide them with all of the resources the Church gives us to celebrate the Season of Lent worthily. The devout celebration of Holy Mass, a fearless proclamation of the Word of God, traditional devotions such as the Stations of the Cross, visitation and care for the sick, and increased opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation will help you and your people to have a good and profitable Lent.
And I urge the faithful to the Diocese of Providence to enter the Season of Lent with real determination. Attend Holy Mass each Sunday, and during the week, if possible. Read the Word of God. Pray often in church, in school and at home. Take seriously the call of the Church to fast and abstain, not just from food, but from other unhealthy attachments as well. Go to Confession. Support the charitable work of the Church, and engage in good deeds of charity, kindness and forgiveness.
Brothers and sisters, I believe that if we engage the Season of Lent in a serious way, the darkness of the world, the decadence of society, and the anxiety of our souls will give way to the goodness and light of Christ. In the 40 days to come, let us walk with Christ through his suffering and death and then rise to the new life, the peaceful and hopeful life, of Easter Day!
With a promise of my prayers during this holy season, and a request for your prayers for me, I remain,
Thomas J. Tobin
Bishop of Providence
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