2014 Lenten Message From Bishop Cote
My dear sisters and brothers in the Lord,
As Jesus’ disciples, we begin our journey to Easter on Ash Wednesday. All who wish to live in a deeper union with Jesus are welcome on this journey to experience God’s mercy and to become instruments of His love. Through our fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and the Sacraments, we seek to renew our faith and our love. And so, we journey with Jesus through His passion and death to share in the new life of His Resurrection. Our journey’s destination is Easter. On that solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead, we will renew our Baptismal promises by renouncing sin and affirming our belief in God, and our desire to live as members of His family.
The days of Lent begin with Jesus’ call to turn away from sin and to embrace the Gospel. Often the root of our sinfulness is selfishness, pride, and greed. Sin is an obstacle to our union with the Lord and to our solidarity with others. Sin impoverishes us morally and spiritually and it deafens us to Jesus’ call to repent and to embrace the Gospel. We turn to the Church for the guidance that we need to live a meaningful and fruitful Lent. Pope Francis provides much valued help to living a good Lent.
In his Lenten Pastoral, Our Holy Father offers “helpful thoughts” for our conversion. His message is inspired by the words of Saint Paul, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though He was rich, yet for our sake, He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:19). Reflecting on this verse, the Holy Father writes, “God’s becoming man is a great mystery! But the reason for all this is His love, a love which is grace, generosity, a desire to draw near, a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved.” The Holy Father noted that Saint Paul’s message encourages us to be generous in helping those persons in need.
Sacred Scripture teaches us that through Jesus’ poverty, “He emptied Himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as men are and becoming as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a Cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). For in Jesus’ sacrifice we see our own need to give of ourselves without counting the cost. In imitation of Jesus, we are motivated by our fidelity to the Father’s Will. We respond to God’s eternal love by giving of ourselves. In short, we are to love others as God loves us –“a love which does not hesitate to offer itself in sacrifice for the beloved.”
Pope Francis’ words focus on the very heart of Jesus’ mission and his message helps us to see Christ more clearly. “In the poor and outcast, we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ”. The moral and spiritual poverty of our day leads to a culture of violence and
death. The Lord’s way is love and His love brings about peace and it gives life. It is by Christ’s sacrifice that we are strengthened and become rich in His love. “It is His way of loving us, His way of being our neighbor…. Jesus is rich in the same way as a child who feels loved and loves its parents without doubting their love and tenderness for an instant.”
The Holy Father calls us “to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it.” In our Diocesan Church we have several opportunities “to touch the poverty of our brothers and sisters” and to help make their lives better. How real the face of Christ is in the poverty and need of those fed in our diocesan Soup Kitchens and Pantries in Norwich and in Middletown. We see Christ in those helped by our diocesan Catholic Charities agency and globally we touch the poor through our support of Operation Rice Bowl and our Diocesan Outreach to Haiti. Our Diocesan Housing Initiative repurposes vacant or unused diocesan buildings to help the homeless-poor and elderly, and it creates housing to help those who have no place to live.
While a labor of love, the personal price of feeding, clothing, sheltering, and helping the impoverished is our commitment, dedication, our energies, and zeal. We spend ourselves in imitation of Christ. It is our way of life. The steps we take to alleviate moral or physical poverty require sacrifice and prayer, self-denial and almsgiving, the Sacraments and penitential practices. The Holy Father writes, “I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.” In short, we need Lent!
This Lent, open your hearts to the Father’s love. To see Christ in our brothers and sisters, to alleviate their poverty and need, we must be freed from the slavery of sin by turning to the Lord and receiving the warm embrace of His merciful love in the Sacrament of Penance. Our parish Churches are once again open in welcome to you to experience the refreshing and renewing graces of the Sacrament of Penance. The Light is on for you! In our parishes, special times will be available so that you can celebrate the Sacrament of Penance. In that Sacrament, you receive the richness of God’s grace and you are cleansed of sin. In experiencing the mercy of God by the forgiveness of our sins, we breathe the refreshing air of new life and know the beauty of the gift of God’s love.
With our Holy Father, I pray that the journey we begin on Ash Wednesday will be fruitful for the Church, for those in need of our love and our help, and for each of us. May this Lenten journey strengthen us to walk with Jesus in newness of life as we renew our birth by water and the Holy Spirit at our Baptism!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop of Norwich