It is the Season of the Great Lenten Fast. Once again, we are reminded of the Our Lord’s forty day fast in which He went to the desert to pray and fast to prepare for His three years of public ministry. It was a time of deep spiritual reflection and even of temptation. The time of prayer empowered Him to present the Gospel message to the apostles, the disciples, and the world.
Each year, we return to the Fast. In many ways, we go through the same personal and public prayers. We try to follow the fasting as best we can. And we offer our service and support to those who look to us for help. In some ways, observing the Great Fast, Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost liturgical seasons is like riding on a merry go round each year. We do the same things each year, and if we are not careful, we end up in the same place. With the grace of God, we spiritually rise up a little wben we reach Easter at the end of the Fast.
When we enter the Season of the Great Fast, it is not just doing the same thing over and over again. Without a plan or goal, you will not get anywhere. So, make a plan and follow it. The church’s requirements for fasting and abstinence are important components throughout Lent. This may look like giving up things like gossip, your favorite coffee order, or forgoing music in the car and replacing it with prayer.
First, we are a year older and hopefully a little wiser than last year. A healthy person continues to learn and understand the world, people, and self more completely. Our spiritual lives are no different. We have grown more holy from the last cycle of the Great Fast and other seasons. Or, ifwe have slacked off or been actively drawn into selfish and sinful activities, the Fast is a time to let go of what holds us down and to return to the path which leads us God.
Second, the world and the church have changed. The war in Ukraine and coming economic recession has affected us all. The Covid pandemic shutdown has changed how we gather. Many things were stopped during the past three years. Some people are slow to restart activities which they never before questioned. As difficult as it is, we need to restart exercise and medical appointments which are necessary for our physical health.
Likewise, attending in person church Divine Liturgies and services is necessary to support our personal spiritual life. No only do we receive blessings with our presence, but we strengthen and build up the faith of our friends by praying with them. Especially during the Great Fast, we reach out and help our friends and those in need.
Finally, we need to do a little bit more in our efforts to move closer to Jesus. Beyond prayer and fasting, we give to others less fortunate than ourselves and we support our churches. “Give something, however small, to the one in need. For it is not small to one who has nothing. Neither is it small to God, if we have given what we could.” St. Gregory Nazianzen.
Returning to prayer, fasting, and giving to others can lift us up from where we were last year to a new level of holiness within the forty days. If we try and open ourselves to God’s mercy, we will be renewed and lifted up. For as the late Pope Benedict XVI reminds us “We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.”
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend William C. Skurla, D.D.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh