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Lent a time of preparation, renewal, rededication

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

May God bless you and keep you! These last few days, God has given us a long-awaited promise that winter will soon end. This winter has been harder than many, but for me, not so hard that I can say I feel like Noah looking for the first sign of dry land. Still, the promise of renewed warmth and long sunny days is a welcome one! Before spring’s resurrection, though, we still have a few more weeks of winter, and with them, of course, the season of Lent.

Lent is our time of preparation, renewal, and rededication for the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This year, Lent begins on March 5. I’ll have more to say about Lent in my next letter. For now, I want simply to ask you to begin to pray and consider what you will do this Lent, to prepare yourself better for Easter. Lent is a journey – a big journey, in fact, if we do it right – and it’s never wise to start off on big journeys without planning. So I urge you to start planning now the elements of your journey through Lent (fasting, prayer, and almsgiving), using these “pre-Lent” weeks fruitfully.

The sacrifice of “giving something up” for Lent each year is a simple and personal way to participate more fully and more eagerly in the great sacrifice of Christ’s Passion and death, so that we can also be more fully included in the glory of His Resurrection. What we give up is therefore of great importance, spiritually, and deserves some careful, prayerful selection. In the two weeks that remain before Ash Wednesday, please spend time asking God what would best help you this year.

Also, it’s a beautiful and fruitful spiritual practice, not only to go to confession during Lent, but also to do so now, so that you can start your journey fresh. Who would want to begin a long journey carrying extra, useless, unwanted baggage? Good planning for a journey includes getting things down to only what we need and will really use. Confession helps us do that spiritually, at the beginning of our Lenten journey. When we go to this healing sacrament again during Lent, we’ll be that much closer to Christ already, and that much better able to profit from His grace again.

Moreover, Lent is not just any journey, it’s a spiritual pilgrimage. Lent will call us to more and deeper prayer and devotion. Again, in these weeks before Lent, start thinking and praying about what more you can do in your spiritual routines. I especially encourage spending a few minutes each day reading the Holy Bible, or praying the Rosary while meditating carefully on the mysteries of Christ’s life, or reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Fathers of the Church, or committing to pray a special prayer or litany every day. The Church lays out such a great feast for us to feed our souls in these ways, it’s hard to choose! If you start trying to form an additional habit of prayer now, you’ll be that much better prepared to begin Lent.

Lent will also call us to additional works of charity and almsgiving (helping the poor). There are so many possibilities of what we can do for others. Now is the time to consider how, as part of a Lenten program, you will offer some aspect of love to those in need – the sick, the dying, the elderly, the neglected, the poor, the suffering, the lost, the forgotten souls that too often we simply don’t see or stop to think about or greet. Who do you know who needs to benefit from the gifts God has given you, uniquely? What organizations can you support with your time and attention? Where might a little additional generosity with money (perhaps contributing more by sacrificing something else, which we refrain from buying) make a difference for Christ? By thinking and praying about these questions now, we’ll be that much better prepared for a Lenten commitment.

Above all, dear friends, make a commitment to pray more! The Lord speaks to us in His Word, so read and pray with Scripture! But also He speaks to us through other people, so pray for others, for whom your intercession can bring light and hope. Please pray for me, and for all our priests and religious, and for young families and struggling families, to be open to the grace and perfect will of God. I pray for all of you, and for your hopes and needs. As we prepare together for the pilgrimage of Lent, may the inspiration of the Holy Spirit guide us to what we need for deeper faith and greater obedience to God.

Your brother in Christ,

Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City

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