Lenten reflections from Newark’s auxiliary bishops

Read in Spanish here

Entering into the cells of our heart

By Bishop Manuel A. Cruz, D.D.

This has been my meditation during this Lent. The passage of the Prodigal Son is dear to me since my days at the seminary.

This refection is powerful from the voice of Cardinal Martini:

Lord, we tend to identify with the son who did not act foolishly and was faithful to his duty. Let us discover that in the face of your infinite love we are eternal prodigal children who squander your wonders. By becoming aware of our sin, we will thus be able to participate in the banquet that you have prepared for us in eternity for ever and ever.

Lent is a time to enter into the cells of our heart and to allow Jesus to enter and to let him be at home with us.  

Immeasurable riches of God’s grace and mercy

By Bishop Elias R. Lorenzo, O.S.B.

In the Lenten season the Church calls us to explore the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and mercy, as we read in Letter to the Ephesians: Blessed be God, so rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in our sins, made us alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4-5). Also, in first Letter to Peter we read: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3). And also the Psalmist: Blessed be God is who always rich in mercy and compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Ps 103:8; Ps. 145:8). 

We bless God, we praise the name of the Lord, because God has shown his great mercy to us again and again. Despite our sins and in spite of our fallen human nature, mercy always triumphs over judgment (Amos 7:9; James 2:13). During these Lenten days, we join the Psalmist who inspired the prayer and attitude of the Lord Jesus himself, and who guides and inspires our prayer in the psalms the Church presents to us in the liturgy. The psalmist prays:

• Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned; in your compassion wipe out my offenses (Ps 51,3, 1).

And again,

• Lord, let your mercy be upon us as we place our trust in you (Ps 33,4).

And again,

• Remember your mercies, O Lord, and your kindness from of old; do not remember the sins of my youth (Ps. 25,6-7).

And again,

• The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. He raises up those who have fallen and lifts up those who are bowed down (Ps 145,8, 14a).

And yet again,

• With the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption; it is he who redeems us from all our iniquities (Ps. 130,7-8).

The call of the Psalmist is clear: Mercy to sinners! Mercy to me, a sinner! Mercy to all! God, our Father, knows the helpless condition of our fallen humanity, yet looks upon us with compassion, not condemnation. And in his great mercy, God acted to do something about our fallen human condition. God restored in each of us his own divine image and likeness by the resurrection of Christ from the dead. If this does not give us hope, nothing will! 

Blessed be God who is so rich in mercy! This is the reason to have hope! The psalmist teaches: Give thanks to the Lord because his mercy endures foreverLet all who fear the Lord say, his mercy endures forever! (Ps. 118:4, 29). If we truly believe and are convinced that God’s mercy endures forever, then we must have hope, we must rejoice. Because of God’s great mercy toward us, God has given us new birth into a living hope, and we are a new creation. The old order has passed awayNow all things are new in Christ! (Rev. 21:4). Lent is a graced moment to “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 13:14), or as the apostle says elsewhere, to grow to the full stature of Christ the Lord (Eph 4:13). This is the life of every disciple, but especially during Lent: we want to be more like Christ today than we were yesterday and more like Christ tomorrow than we are today. Lent is a graced moment to reclaim that divine image in which we have been created and in which we are redeemed in Christ.

Blessed be God, who has made all things new in Christ! Because of that rebirth, we share in the life of Christ, already now and into eternity. That is the living hope that we must reclaim today and every day. The hope of our life in Christ, the hope of salvation, the hope of eternal life, has already mysteriously begun in those who are baptized in Christ.

Therefore, we have this living hope, not simply a hope of something better. The hope of salvation that we have permeates every part of us, and all that we do. We are not like those who have no hope (1 Thes. 4:13). With a living hope we live our lives now for the eternity we were created for.  And this hope comes through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Jesus defeated death and broke its hold on humanity. And so, we can trust that he will also defeat death for us, death to sin in us and death around us and for all who trust in him. Our hope is founded on this new life in Christ.

Mercy is the unique lens through which Pope Francis understands the mission and ministry of the Church. And so, it is appropriate to reflect together on mercy which gives birth to hope. Hope, it seems, may be the forgotten of the three theological virtues. Volumes are written about faith, both over the centuries and today. Everyone wants to talk about love. But between faith and love we find the virtue of hope. It is in the middle because it holds faith and love together. The French author and poet Charles Péguy, in his lengthy poem entitled: The Portal of Hope, refers to hope as the little sister of faith and love, walking between her two big sisters who hold her hands, scarcely noticed by anyone. He says of her: “It is she, the little one, who carries them all. Faith sees what is; charity loves what is. But hope loves what will be. In time and for eternity.” 

Christ, the incarnation of the mercy of God, is the source of our hope. This hope then becomes the foundation which inspires our faith, and fuels our love – our love of God, God’s love in us and for us, and our love for all of life and creation. Hope is the draw, or as Lewis Ford says, the lure, the nourishment of our soul. Here the term “lure” is not like that of a fisherman, who catches the fish. But more like a beautiful work of art that draws our focus to it, holds it there, and allows us to see more and more of the artist’s depth in the work.  Love stands on Hope. Without hope, there is no reason to love, because there would be no future for which to live. Hope, as Charles Péguy writes: “greets the day afresh and ever new” because the future is always beginning. 

Pope Francis has said: “To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope.” He continues, “Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens into the future.” However, he goes on to say that the only future worth building includes everyone! All of us – together. We walk through this life arm-in-arm and that communion generates hope.

In conclusion, we cannot have hope, without a personal experience of the mercy of God. Any experience of God’s rich mercy and amazing grace in our lives, will always fill us with hope. Mercy engenders hope, and hope cannot exist without encountering the tender mercy of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be all glory and honor and praise forever and ever. Amen! 

Calling a 40-day time-out

By Bishop Michael A. Saporito

This year Lent began 10 days after the Super Bowl was played. Even non- football fans tend to watch the game around social gatherings. Other attractions besides the game itself will include the halftime show and, of course, the commercials. With the high price of advertisement, these coveted spots are a wonderful opportunity to showcase big-time creativity with the large audience.

I mention this, because in every sport I can think of there are “time-outs” for TV commercials which raise money for that sport, but there are also “time-outs” that are planned during a game.

For those sports that don’t have time-outs, there is halftime. In either situation, the purpose is for the team to stop the game, gather around the coach and plan strategy, set plays, make adjustments, and change momentum based on what’s happening. They can be critical moments in helping to achieve the desired result.

In this sense it’s a perfect metaphor for the season of Lent even among those who do not care for sports at all. Lent comes each year based on the date of the Easter celebration and it comes in the middle of the week with the arrival of Ash Wednesday. It’s like a planned “time-out” in the midst of our daily living.

It comes at the strategic time of getting us ready for the great Feast of Easter. It halts our lives for the grand start by calling all together to begin this intensified period of time in our life as Christians by recalling our mortality with ashes. We will return to the dust from which we were formed except by the gift of salvation offered in Jesus Christ.

Instead, of gathering around the coach or team leader, we are invited to draw close to Jesus during this extended time to draw inspiration and grace for healing.

The Lenten observance helps us to evaluate, look back, listen for new directions and set a course by making adjustments or changes in our lives. Those changes can represent actual thought, words and deeds. We certainly aim to turn away from sin, but we are also ever determined to turn towards Christ with the very best of ourselves. That takes work, effort and grace. Very different from the “time-out” in any game, this “time-out” is extended over the 40-day plus period, allowing us to establish patterns and directions that will hopefully continue to influence us when the official time of Lent is over.

Lent is not intended to be temporary in this respect. We ideally don’t want to look at Lent like other seasons of the year. We receive ashes, we pray, fast, and give alms and then pack it all away until next year. Indeed, Lent is a built-in retreat each year meant to expand our minds, hearts and actions. It is a call to grow in holiness not simply to add religiosity and added ritual for a short period of time only to hide it the rest of the year. On this journey of life, the many Lents we live through provide us with an opportunity to grow as disciples of Jesus each time the opportunity comes.

Ultimately this extended “time-out” leads us to celebrate the Sacred Triduum with our minds and hearts renewed and with a firmer grasp on the significance of the gift of salvation and the ultimate hope gifted to us at Easter.

“Time-out!” Let’s huddle up! Let us use this time wisely!

The Good News of forgiveness and salvation from sin

By Bishop Gregory J. Studerus

How very quickly Lent moves on. We began on Ash Wednesday, almost like we do on New Year’s Eve, when we make all kinds of resolutions to change our lives, and suddenly time has moved on. We find ourselves still struggling to live up to some ideal, with habits and failures  still with us that seem to drag us down.

As we at least try to better hear, and listen to the life of Jesus and to reflect on His call to us in this season of Lent, we need to always remember His way of dealing with people; always treating them as brothers and sisters. He never condemns them! He may question, or even condemn their actions, but the person is never condemned, never rejected.

The woman at the well; he knows her story deeply; five husbands! To her He simply offers life giving water. The woman caught in adultery; he knows her sin, but knows all too well the sins of those condemning her. He simply says, ‘Where are they?’ ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’ He sees a tax collector, one of those so distrusted by the people. He knows his practices, and yet says, ‘Come follow me.’ He looks down at those who curse him and assassinate Him, and He says, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Surely, He is looking at us with that same compassionate understanding as we struggle through life, so often not knowing, not aware of what we do to harm ourselves or others.

But He does ask us to KNOW what we are doing. He does ask us to be aware of, and to repent those repeated failures that so often seem to well up from some deep place within us, some need we think at any given moment to be so important, so irresistible. He knows the depths of our hearts. And  knowing our vulnerable hearts He has compassion. He has compassion even as He says, “Go and sin no more.” 

In Lent He is saying, “Go and work on the resolution of your life. And know that I am at your side to give you courage to try again. I am with you to offer you a new way. I give you the Good News of forgiveness and salvation from sin.” He says, “Trust in me, I will never reject you.”