Archpastoral Letter on Great Lent 2008
Prot. N. 185-March 9, 2008
To the Venerable Priesthood and Diaconate, the Clergy and the Seminarians of the Diocese, and our Beloved and Devoted Faithful,
Christ is Among Us! He is and Always Shall Be!
Dear Clergy and Faithful:
We are about to enter into the Season of the year when the Lord draws our hearts close to Him and His Church. We are about to refrain from certain foods and entertainments for a time. We are about to attend Divine Services more often. We are about to give more charity to the poor, to be kinder to our neighbors, to care for the sad and the grieving around us.
We do all this not because there is something wrong with food or entertainment. Instead, we are reminded that there is something wrong with our hearts. We need to understand, every year before Holy Week, just why Holy Week is needed. We need to understand why the Cross means life to us, and why we need salvation from the powers of darkness.
The Lenten fasting period is a time of looking deep into our hearts, and looking up at the Cross, and waiting for the glory of the Resurrection Day. It is a time when we bravely think about sin and about the wages of sin that is death.
It takes bravery to think about sin. If you don't think so, then perhaps you haven't thought much recently either about sin, or the result of sin which is death. Sin is more than not being perfect or making the grade. It is more than missing the mark. It is not enough to say that sin is a fault, or even a crime.
It is, rather, a betrayal and a sickness, all mixed into one horrible stain. Sin is an action or a behavior. It is the result of thoughts and feelings, passions and temptations. It is like a weed that sprouts in ugliness after it has grown underground from the seeds of bad thoughts and nurtured by grudges, fantasies and selfish desires.
The world sees this, and it is not offended. It sees the weeds of sin grow in every heart, and calls it "normal", simply because that is what most of the people do most of the time.
But sometimes, and especially in the time of a fasting season, we see sin with the eyes of the Apostles and the Holy Fathers, and with a conscience sensitized by the Holy Spirit. We recognize the foul ugliness of sin as nothing less than a spiritual gangrene. It is like someone with lung cancer continuing to smoke, or an alcoholic continuing to drink himself to death. Sin is like that: a willing exposure of one's heart to the cancer of sin...a voluntary acceptance of gangrene in the soul.
Who would willingly become so ugly in the heart? Who would willingly introduce decay and ruin into the soul? Yet, that is what happens when sin is committed: death is embraced and participated in.
Of course, the world does not know this, or it chooses to ignore this. It runs around in circles in insane denial.
But you and I are brought face to face with the ugliness of sin in the Great Fast, from which the world runs away. We are forced to face up to the fact that sin is neither fun nor is it entertaining. It is grotesque and full of death.
And in the Lenten Season, for everything we learn about sin and death, we learn even more about life and Jesus Christ.
When we fast from food and entertainments, we enter into a quiet hunger for the Bread of Life: this is the Eucharist, the life of the Holy Trinity which is brought by the Son of Man to all mankind. When we love and forgive, and give of our riches to the poor, we participate in the obedience of the Son of God to God the Father: we empty ourselves, and love our neighbor, our friend and even our enemy.
This Great Fast of Lent, we will all - each one of us - enter into the Holy Mystery of Confession. There we will confess our sins to God in the presence of the priest and the Saints. We will recognize the ugliness of the stain of sin, and we will understand our complicity in spiritual death. We will examine our conscience through prayer and preparation, and we will accuse ourselves of sin. We will repent with remorse, and we will wait upon the absolution given by God's servant - our priest, our confessor.
I remind all of you, as your fervent intercessor before Christ and your Archpastor, that we are all - clergy and laity alike - bound by a solemn duty to come to the Sacrament of Confession and Penance this Lent. Fulfill this commandment with all your heart, and you will be healed. You will call upon the Name of the Lord, and He will lift your burdens and set you free.
In the Lenten Fast, and in Confession, we look up at the Cross and over the horizon to the Day of the Resurrection. And in the light of that Paschal Morning, shining even into these Forty Days of fasting, we look into our hearts, and we recognize that Jesus Christ dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is drawing us closer, higher, and further up into the eternal and glorious Fellowship of the Divine Brightness - all because God is love, and all because we repented and believed, and all because we followed Jesus Christ through the Great Fast, to the Cross and through the Resurrection.
Beloved, let this fasting season be a Lenten struggle against sin! Let us not be afraid of death, but let us fight its power under the sign of the Cross. Let us shine the brightness of the Resurrection Morning into the night of the world. Let us be hungry not for the food and pleasures of the world, but for the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. Let us seek the fellowship of the Body of Christ in prayer. Let us be merciful and quiet, peaceful and sweet.
Let us confess our sins, so that we will not be ruined by them. Let us receive the cleansing and purification of the absolution of the Church, so that we might draw close to God the Father, in the Spirit, through the Son.
Granting you my Archpastoral blessing, and praying that you may grow strong in the Grace of the Lord, I remain
Most sincerely yours in Christ,
This Archpastoral letter is to be read in every Parish of the Diocese in lieu of the sermon on Sunday March 9, 2008