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 February 4, 2008   •   VOL. 46, NO. 3   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Lent: 40 days when we concentrate
on personal conversion

Dear Friends in Christ,

Lent is the first of several topics which I want to consider with you in this week’s column. This year Easter comes early, on March 23, so Ash Wednesday is just around the corner – February 6.

Dedicating 40 days to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s Passover — Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday — is a very ancient practice in the Church. There are a variety of things we need to do in order to prepare for any feast or holiday, but the most important form of preparation for a Christian festival is conversion.

Lent is just that: 40 days consecrated to conversion. The first Lenten Preface eloquently expresses this point: “Each year you, [O Lord,] give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed.”

This conversion agenda for Lent is most clearly required for our catechumens. These 40 days are the final stage of their preparation for their reception of the Sacraments of Initiations at the Easter Vigil. For them Lent is an intense period of preparation for their Baptism, Confirmation and First Holy Communion.

The progress of the catechumens toward their Baptism inspires us who are already baptized. Lent is a most appropriate time to renew our commitment to the Lord, to cast off once more the “Old Adam” of sin and selfishness and to put on Christ anew.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church succinctly summarizes the program we should follow in order to accomplish this change of heart: It is a time for “spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, … voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works)” (n. 1438).

I urge all of you to set aside some extended period for prayer and reflection prior to Ash Wednesday: to examine your conscience in order to identify the sinful habits you have taken on, to listen to the Holy Spirit as he inspires you about how to change, and to resolve on the course of action you will pursue over the weeks of Lent so that you will become more like Christ.

Every such program should have three components: increased prayer, acts of self-denial, and more intense application to works of solidarity and love on behalf of others. The Church’s laws about fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and about abstinence on the Fridays of Lent are only a minimum of what is required for a solid effort.

I know that your priests, deacons and catechists will give you a lot of useful “coaching” for this important effort. In this connection I particularly recommend your reading the Lenten message of our Holy Father Pope Benedict, available on the Vatican web site, along with his messages for past years.

If I could add to all the wise counsel you receive, perhaps a final piece of helpful advice is, as the advertisement says, “Just do it!” Don’t let this great opportunity, these days of abundant grace, pass you by. “Now is,” as St. Paul affirms, “the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

Next, I want to take notice of the news that seems to be on every third billboard I pass as I drive through the East Bay — that Catholic radio has come to our area. These signs announce that at 1260 AM, KSFB (K-Saint Francis Bay) is broadcasting 24/7 the good news about Jesus Christ. This station is part of network called “Immaculate Heart Radio.”

Their mission is, as they say on their web site (www.ihradio.org), to be “a non-profit lay apostolate that operates a 24-hour Catholic Radio Network in the Western United States. [They] are dedicated to sharing the heart of the Christian faith and changing lives through radio airwaves.”

I thank God for the dedicated efforts of the lay men and women who have worked so hard, and overcome some almost impossible challenges, in order to bring a Catholic radio station to the Bay Area. They have heard the call of the late Pope John Paul the Great “to launch out into the deep” for the sake of the New Evangelization.

Their accomplishment is one of the fruits of renewed lay involvement in the Church’s apostolate envisioned by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council. I hope you will take time to tune in the broadcasts on 1260 AM, KSFB. And visit their web site for more information about the station and its programming.

Finally, I want to talk about retreat — both the Pope’s and mine. First about mine: I will be in the middle of it when you read this in The Voice. This year once again I will be joining the bishops of Northern California for an eight-day private directed retreat.

When I came to Oakland I learned that the bishops of our state had a long-standing commitment to such a serious shared effort to grow in the Christian life. I have been deeply edified by their example and find great joy in this common experience of grace.

Please keep all of us in your prayers, asking the Lord that these days of retreat will bear good fruit in our lives, and be assured of my prayers for all of you and your loved ones while I am on retreat.

And soon, the Holy Father will begin his week of retreat, on the First Week of Lent, according to a long-standing practice. Let us all be one with him in prayer, so that he will receive from the Lord the grace and strength he needs to serve as our Father in Christ.


Previous "In His Light" Columns by Bishop Allen H. Vigneron

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