It seems almost a surprise that as I write to you Ash Wednesday is almost here. Despite the unexpected yet easily recognized approach of the Season of Lent, we find that the arrival of the first day of Lent becomes a kind of wonderful door opening that comforting spiritual time that brings so many opportunities for each one of us to grow in faith and charity.
Our faith is a great treasure. For by it, we are brought closer to God and are awakened to that deep desire placed in us by the Father to yearn to be closer to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this way, faith is a true blessing that impels us to find concrete expression in works of charity, in almsgiving, and in fasting.
Indeed, there is so much peace and joy that comes with Lent’s heightened commitment to prayer and the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist: Without a doubt going to Mass during Lent has its own specific joy and brings about within us real internal peace. Each year, I recall that we all are only given so many Lents in our lives, which we are invited to make use of the benefit not just of ourselves but for all.
At the same time, Ash Wednesday is always a wonderful occasion which brings a renewed commitment among our people to participate in the Mass. As the Church fills for Mass on Ash Wednesday each year, I think of that profoundly simple scene in Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer where Binx Bolling describes his one experience in a Church on the first day of Lent: “The church, an old one in the rear of Biloxi, looks like a post office. It is an official-looking place. The steps are trodden into scallops; the brass rail and doorplate are worn bright as gold from hard use. . . By the time Mass begins we are packed in like sardines. A woman comes up the aisle, leans over and looks down our pew. She gives me an especially hard look. I do not budge. It is like the subway. Roy Smith . . . gives up his seat to a little girl and kneels in the aisle with several other men, kneels on one knee like a tackle, elbow propped on his upright knee, hands clasped sideways. His face is dark with blood, his breath whistles in his nose as he studies the chips in the terrazzo floor.”
That very human scene reminds me of the simplicity and utter humanity of prayer, as well as the great power of God’s grace that is summoned by it. I ask for your prayers for our Diocese and the needs of our local Church. There are so many challenges in this modern world we all know of the drugs and poverty as well as the personal challenges to all our people. This Lent hopefully will be grace filled for each of you.
I recently attended our Priest Council Meetings here in Wheeling. I find these meetings comfortable and enjoyable as Bishop. The discussions and the engagement of so many good priests with the issues that concern us as a Diocese is always really impressive to me. There is a good rapport among our priests and they, as individuals and as a group, share with me experiences that they have and offer ideas for meeting effectively the challenges of such a geographically large diocese with its diverse regions and people. I really find myself at ease, learning from the exchange of ideas and the dialogue among the priests. I ask you, as the faithful people you are, to pray for our priests who have so many challenges and who continually strive to make our parishes and people truly our major priority. We need your help and prayers.
As many of you are very aware there has been a great surge of “the flu” occurring in our own nation at the present time. In addition to the sheer number of people affected this year, the flu has proved more virulent, reminding us that influenza can be fatal, especially among children and the elderly. We should all be aware of how hard our medical professionals have been working in recent months. Obviously, I am very aware of it because of our own Wheeling Hospital; I am keenly aware also that this great challenge is occurring throughout our State and the United States. We should be praying in this Lent for all the victims of flu and other respiratory illnesses as well our hard working medical professionals working every day to care for them.