Glory to Jesus Christ!
February 7, 2016
Dear people, religious, and clergy, The journey through the Great Lenten Fast is begun. The six week period of fasting with the Liturgies of Saint Basil the Great, Liturgies for All Souls Saturdays, and the Liturgies of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts opens up our hearts and minds to our spiritual need for growth to be able to celebrate Holy and Great Week. Pope Francis reminds us during the Year of Mercy that we are called through works of mercy to go beyond the minimum of the Lenten prayers and services by serving the needs of our families, neighbors, and the poor and those imprisoned.
During the Year of Mercy, we are reminded of Jesus’ words that the Father desires mercy before sacrifices. All our Lenten devotions and fasting are meaningless if our hearts are not filled with love and mercy for others. Lenten prayer, together with being a servant to the needs of others, can lead us to holiness.
Jesus’ words were inspired by the prophets of Old Testament and the Book of Psalms. The prophets called the people of God to do more than the minimum required by the law. The prophetic message inspired from the Book of Psalms calls everyone to pray with a humble heart:
“Lord, you will open my lips; and my mouth will proclaim your praise. For you do not desire sacrifice or I would give it; a burnt offering you would not accept. My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit; a contrite, humbled heart, O God, you will not scorn.” (Psalms 51:17-19)
The Old Testament prophets proclaimed the need to do works of mercy and to the change the hearts of a stubborn people. It is hard when anyone asks us to do more. It is even harder when you ask someone to change his or her heart or the motivation for doing what is good.
Like the people of Israel, each Lent we ask ourselves, “What more can I do?” We can be overwhelmed by people asking us to give our personal time or financial support, to rebuild the church, to feed the hungry, and to visit the sick and imprisoned. There are so many needs, we can be frozen and be prevented from doing anything new.
We cannot do everything, but we are called during the Lent to do one thing more.
In the older tradition that we choose one thing to give up for Lent, we can choose one extra thing to do for the season of the Great Fast. Depending upon our age, health, and abilities, we can pick at least one good work that we can start during this lenten season during the Year of Mercy. The work we do may not change the entire world by itself, but it can help someone to have hope. The good from even a little act of mercy can change someone’s life. And in turn, your act of mercy during this season of the Great Fast can be a moment to change your heart to become a merciful person.
Through our prayers and works of mercy, we pray each Lent the Lord will be merciful to us and create a new heart for us. With our hearts cleansed, our minds and souls can then be opened to the joy of the celebration of the Resurrection.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend William C. Skurla, D.D.
Metropolitan Archbishop of Pittsburgh