As we enter into the holy season of Lent, let us listen to the words of our Holy Father in his Lenten message for this year: "Lent is a new beginning, a path leading to the certain goal of Easter, Christ's victory over death. This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God "with all their hearts" (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord." Pope Francis provides us with a beautiful image of Lent as a time for strengthening ourselves and our relationship with Christ.
While many of us are accustomed to give up something for Lent, I encourage you to consider the different ways in which you might also take up something during Lent. Perhaps you could take up the daily Rosary or add one extra devotion per week such as the Stations of the Cross. Of course, fasting and abstaining are integral parts of our Lenten discipline, which we must continue to observe. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence. Fasting is obligatory for all Catholics aged 18-59 while abstaining from meat is required for all Catholics aged 14 and up. As you know, when you are fasting, you may eat one full meal as well as two smaller meals that together do not equal a full meal.
Speaking of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, how about abstaining from smartphone use and social media on these holy days? This Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, I encourage you to consider silencing the noise and distraction that smartphones and social media bring into our lives. This silence will allow us to communicate with God in a deeper way as we strive to enter into and conclude the Lenten season with love and devotion.
The Light Is On For You: With the endorsement of our Presbyteral Council, parishes around the diocese will be offering extra hours for the sacrament of penance and reconciliation during the Lenten season. You can find a list of these additional times in parish bulletins and via the following link: www.buffalodiocese.org/light-is-on. Please take advantage of this special opportunity for a healing encounter during this graced time of renewal. Remember, the entrance to the confessional is always a holy door of mercy!
St. Gerard, Muslims, One God
You know of the sale of the former St. Gerard Church on the East Side of Buffalo to a community of Muslims who will convert it to a mosque. Father Butch Mazur, former pastor of St. Gerard and currently our diocesan ecumenical and interfaith affairs officer (as well as ECMC trauma chaplain), commented on this development on local TV news. While mentioning the 40-year history of positive relations between the Diocese of Buffalo and the local Muslim community, Father noted that "we worship the same God."
Sadly, my office received several negative reactions to his words. One woman said she could no longer be a member of the Catholic Church if we hold that Muslims and Catholics worship the same God. Clearly, the Christian understanding of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is different from the Muslim conception of Allah. But Judaism, Islam and Christianity are universally acclaimed as three monotheistic (i.e. believing in one God) religions. We all three traditions hold firmly that there is one God only. We all worship that one God, though with different names for and understandings of God's nature and relationship with humankind.
I am afraid that we still have a lot of work to do to help our people learn the teachings of the Church as articulated by the Second Vatican Council. To the point, consider words from the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church ("Lumen Gentium"). After noting the primary place in God's plan of the Jewish people (that) "remains most dear to God," the Constitution declares that "the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place among these are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind" (#16).
Pope Francis is pleading with the world to welcome refugees as brothers and sisters and not to see them as enemies. He recently decried the global "epidemic of animosity and violence" where strangers, immigrants and refugees are considered a threat simply "because they come from a distant country or have different customs" or because "of the color of their skin, their language or their social class," or because "they think differently or even have a different faith." This kind of thinking, the Holy Father warns, turns our differences into "symptoms of hostility, threats and violence."
A few facts for your consideration:
The 84,000 refugees who legally entered the U.S. last year represent less than 1 percent of refugees worldwide who are eligible for resettlement.
The vetting process is extremely thorough and vigorous. It includes investigations and review by multiple federal agencies, fingerprinting and retinal scans. The entire process can take two to three years.
All refugees have been traumatized in some, and often many ways. Almost all have lived in refugee camps for many years before arriving in the United States.
Many have waited years to be united with friends and family in the United States.
I want to take this opportunity to commend the work of our local Catholic Charities, which is one of four resettlement agencies in Buffalo. Last year, they resettled 700 people into the Western New York area. I pray that those people and any others who have come to our region will find a warm welcome in the "City of Good Neighbors."
Be assured of my prayers that each of you might have a fruitful and blessed Lent and that, in the words of the old hymn, "an Easter of unending joy we may attain at last!"