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Lent: Special time to wean lives of sin

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Tempus fugit – time flees. It hardly seems a year since my last Lenten letter to you. We celebrate Ash Wednesday this year on February 17 as thus begin a special journey of grace. The forty days of Lent are truly a gift to us and a special time to enter into prayer and fasting with our Lord. The penances that we keep, the fasting, abstaining from meat and the things we “give up” are all meant to change us not just in preparation for Easter, but also for the rest of our lives. We want to get to heaven and Lent gives us time to once again wean ourselves away from the sins, failures and temptations that make the journey to holiness so difficult.

Lent offers us a blessed reminder of that need always to renew our praise to God. Every year, every day, every minute, He gives us countless gifts from His divine mercy. Every material and spiritual good thing we have, we have only from the one benevolent Giver. It is so easy to take this truth for granted, and to fail to praise and thank God every day. Lent helps us remember to do so, by confronting us once again with our baptismal call to holiness. How shall we strive to be more like Christ, to love God more, to praise Him more gratefully?

The readings for Holy Mass on Ash Wednesday exemplify this Lenten return to God. We will hear the prophet Joel say, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God” (2:12-13). We will sing with King David, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise” (Psalm 51:17). And we will hear Christ in St. Matthew’s Gospel, teaching us how to pray, fast, and give alms so as to please our Heavenly Father (Mt 6:1-18).

We each know the reality of sin in our lives. We know how far we have fallen, along with our first parents. Consider how Adam’s lips were first opened when God “blew the breath of life into his face” (Gen 2:7). In his innocence, Adam’s thoughts and words and actions did praise God. He thanked God for the bounty of the garden. His obedience to God was freely given. He loved God, simply because God loved him. Before the Fall, he showed a simple, pure, and generous love and gratitude, against which, still today, few of us can compare favorably.

How, then, did our first parents fall, leaving us to inherit the reality of original sin? The devil lied to them and tricked them. He convinced them that they could love God still more purely and generously, if they themselves were more like God. He tricked them into thinking that they really didn’t need God. And Adam and Eve began to believe that they could live and find happiness without God. In pride and selfishness, they walked away from God and His loving care for them.

And this same lie, still today, constantly tempts us into sin. The devil keeps using it because it keeps working! Every time we allow ourselves to believe it, we refuse to praise God with our every thought and word and action; we refuse to trust in the power of that love Incarnate; we refuse to obey God’s will for us, and His good and just laws. Just as Adam and Eve fell for it, all too often, we likewise can and do fall for the great lie. Their “original sin” continues to corrupt and erode our love for God.

Adam and Eve sinned and fell, because they believed the devil’s lie. We know, in a way they could not yet know, the truth. We know Jesus, God-with-us, and the power of His Passion, the glory of His Resurrection. Over and over again, we are privileged to see played out for us, in the one, eternal Sacrifice of the Holy Mass, the mystery of Love conquering Death. The chance we have to go to Mass each day during this Lenten Season is a great gift for us. Over and over again, we are privileged beyond measure to share in that Paschal mystery, to triumph over death and sin as members of the glorified Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Again and again we receive through the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Confession, the means to reject the devil’s great lie, to resist the “glamour of evil,” to refuse to be mastered by sin – not that we will not fall once more, but that each time we do, we will get back up, to keep pursuing that holiness to which we are called by our baptism.

This Lent, let us open our lips in praise and thanksgiving to God, the source of all good things, and the Giver of the new life of Faith most especially. Our Lenten prayers and sacrifices are meant to deepen our gratitude; to grow in faith and love. With the prophet Joel, “Rend your heart, not your garments,” we willingly offer God our Lenten discipline of renewed charity and self-sacrifice. As we prepare to receive once again the greatest gift of all, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ at Easter, let us “store up your treasures in Heaven” (Mt 6:20), our true home.

May our Lord Jesus Christ continue to bless us most abundantly, with every good thing – not least with the spirit of forgiveness for those who harm us. Please continue to pray for each other, especially during Lent. I promise my prayers for each of you during this holy season. As we continue with our Year for Priests, please pray very hard for all our priests and seminarians, and for me, and for our Holy Father, that we too may grow with you in holiness.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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