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Catholic Voice
  February 18, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 4   •   Oakland, CA
Bishop's Column

Approaching Lent with joy, anticipation

Archbishop Alex J. Brunett

Although it is more often associated with penance and sacrifice, Lent truly should be for us a time of great joy and anticipation even as we observe our traditional Lenten practices. As we begin our diocesan celebration of the season this year, I invite you to reflect upon these words from the prophet Isaiah (58:6-8)

       This is the fasting that I wish:
       releasing those bound unjustly,
       untying the thongs of the yoke:
       setting free the oppressed,
       breaking every yoke;
       sharing your bread with the hungry,
       sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
       clothing the naked when you see them,
       and not turning your back on your own.
       Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
       and your wounds shall quickly be healed.

The season of Lent provides the time when we and our parish communities can reflect on this call from the prophet.What does fasting mean for us this year? How do we release and untie and set free; how do we share bread and shelter and clothing; how do we care for our own? Bringing light to the world — or not — depends on our answer.

What will we be able to say about this when we come to the Easter celebration of light and life? Perhaps the prophet Joel, whom we heard on Ash Wednesday, helps us arrive at our answer: Return to the Lord with your whole heart; the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness; get involved so that everyone will know that our God dwells in us.

People of faith

Our celebration of Lent urges us to build for our future precisely because we are a people of faith — each person, each parish community, and our diocesan church.

During Lent we are to fast and abstain as an indication that we are called to be penitent people. We are all aware that the disciplines of fast and abstinence have a long history in the Catholic Church, but it is good to remind ourselves about them occasionally. I encourage you to experience Lent in a special way if possible through the daily liturgies, opportunities for shared prayer and reflection, and the celebration of reconciliation in your parish community.

Hope for the Resurrection

Recently I received a very special gift from the Salish people. It is a tapestry replete with colors suggestive of Lent and featuring the likeness of an eagle soaring high above the trees and mountains.

This magnificent scene recalls what is at the very heart of our Lenten observance. We fast and undergo a continual conversion in preparation for the Triduum, which culminates in the glory of Jesus' resurrection at Easter. Lent thus anticipates our own hope for resurrection, when God will, to paraphrase the popular hymn, "raise us up on eagle's wings, and hold us in the palm of his hand."

Because they foreshadow the Resurrection, we should approach fasting and abstinence with a profound sense of joy. Recall that Christ cautioned his disciples not to "look glum" when fasting, but to ensure that "no one can see you fasting but your Father who is hidden." (Mt 6:16-18) These Lenten sacrifices and other penitential acts are steps toward conversion, means of focusing on our need for repentance. They enable us to turn toward Jesus and draw closer to him as we remember his passion, death and Resurrection.

Is not this desire and movement toward deeper intimacy with our Lord a cause for joy? Then let us advance through these 40 days with joy in our hearts. The fasting which the Lord desires is that which creates a new heart in us and inspires us to reach out to others in need. If we approach these tasks joyfully, our light will indeed "break forth like the dawn," our wounds will surely be healed — and everyone will know that our God dwells in us.

Reconciliation needed

"Our wounds shall quickly be healed," said Isaiah. To what wounds of ours does the prophet refer? We can all readily point to the hurts and disappointments we carry with us through our daily lives, the trials and illnesses which are part of the human condition.

But our greatest need for healing is our brokenness, which is manifest by our sinfulness. Although we are God's holy people, we have an amazing tendency to spiritually self-destruct, often in seemingly subtle ways. If we are to experience the continuing conversion that must be part of our authentic Lenten experience — if we are to take our Lord seriously as he beckons us to draw nearer to him — we must also take stock of our lives and lifestyles in light of the Gospel and the teachings of the church.

For those areas in which our own behaviors and attitudes are at variance with these norms, we can find forgiveness and spiritual guidance through the sacrament of reconciliation. It is important that we avail ourselves of this opportunity for healing not only during Lent, but regularly throughout the year to maintain our walk along the road of conversion.

Tragically, all too often our brokenness extends throughout our families and communities. How many parents and children, brothers and sisters have carried grudges against one another in their hearts for years, refusing to forgive completely some long-past slight and choosing instead to close themselves off with walls of anger and resentment? How many fellow parishioners worship together in the same church each week but go out of their way to avoid each other once Mass is over?

No unkind word, no act of injustice, no broken trust is beyond the reach of God's forgiving power. We too much seek the healing which frees us to offer unconditional love and forgiveness for those who we feel have wronged us. This Lent, may we pray particularly for the grace to free ourselves from the bonds of anger, obstinance and self-pity so that we may embrace again in the love of Christ those in our family and community from whom we are presently alienated.

Eucharistic people

We are Eucharistic people. Our deepest expression of unity is in our sharing of the Eucharist, when our Lord gave us his very body and blood so that he may dwell within us. If we are separated from our God through sin or are bearing a grudge against family or neighbor, we are diminished in our capacity to receive the indwelling Christ because our lives mitigate against the unity which the Eucharist signifies. Let us therefore actively seek reconciliation in all areas of our lives so that we may experience the grace of the Eucharist to the fullest.

Girded with a spirit of fasting and prayer, a thirst for reconciliation, and a concern for the needs of others, we can live our Lenten conversion with great joy as we approach the Easter celebration. Freed from the yoke and shackles of our own making, our joy can help inspire others to that same freedom which is found only in our Lord. Then we may truly soar with the Holy Spirit as on eagle's wings, far beyond the trees and mountains, as we look ahead to the glory of the resurrection which awaits us.

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