"From The Bishop" - Column for February 2016 NCC

February 1, 2016

A Season of Great Grace From all external appearances this Lent is not different from any other Lent. It is the same forty days in length, it terminates in Easter, the Liturgical readings are the same as they have been in years past, the color of vestments is purple with the exception of occasional Feasts and that one Sunday when pink (actually Rose) colored vestments are worn. True the Season is the same but the year is different, especially this Jubilee Year of Mercy, and you are different as you move through this Lent. This is a season of great grace. Often, like with the New Year, our minds and hearts are filled with ‘good intentions’ and these intentions need to be supported and reinforced by God’s grace.

         Have you noticed that during Lent it is somehow easier to go to Mass more often during the week over and above the Sunday ‘obligation’?  Have you noticed a greater pull to prayer? Have you noticed a more frequent tug at your heart that says, “You know, it has been quite a while since you made it to confession?” Have you noticed a few more of those very good and wholesome ‘shoulds’ which bombard us periodically? These are graces, they are God’s actual graces calling us to ongoing and deeper conversion. The Jubilee Year of Mercy is just such a grace as well. Since God totally respects our freedom, we are able to resist these ‘graced inclinations’ but we do so at a cost. The cost is that we become less sensitive to these calls of grace, we become a bit more calloused to them and we run the risk of resisting them so consistently that we become immune to them.

         During the season of Lent it appears that God redoubles the weight of grace, He knocks a little harder and a little more persistently at our doors and He permits additional influences to touch us in order that we might, freely all the while, ultimately relent in our resistance and respond with a ‘Yes’ to His call to deeper conversion.

         During Lent God calls us, individually and personally, to open our hearts to a renewed and deeper possibility of God in our lives. He invites us to visit Him in the Blessed Sacrament each week and to be faithful to Sunday Mass. He invites us to take some time in quiet reflective prayer to ask ourselves, in the light of God’s grace, “Am I closer to God now than I was as a child? Am I closer to God now than I was a year ago, or five years ago?” Lent is a graced time to examine our spiritual lives to see if the path we are on is one that is directed to God or away from God, a path that brings us closer each day or one that keeps God at a safe distance.

         This ‘test’ of the nearness of God has a concrete sign given to us by Jesus, namely, “If you love me keep my commandments.” Thus, the claim “I love God but …” falls short of the mark. I love God but He certainly does not expect me to travel all that way each Sunday to go to Mass. I love God but His Church’s teaching about the sinfulness of artificial contraception seems a bit outmoded. I love God but I will determine how He is to be worshipped. God says, in effect, “If you love me, then conform yourself to me.”

         During Lent we are asked to walk a bit more closely with Jesus as he calls us to be his followers. We are challenged to strip off those secular attitudes and attachments which impede our progress to God. A more intense spiritual life can appear to be too difficult and challenging, if not impossible. When we enter into it there may be a period of adjustment but we quickly discover that God truly is kind and merciful.

Bishop Robert F. Vasa