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Bishop Paul Sirba: Lent is nearly upon us — get ready

Our Lent draws near! In the first days of February we conclude Catholic School’s Week, our priests and deacons attend the annual retreat for clergy Feb. 5-9, and we celebrate the Feast Day of St. Scholastica on Feb. 10. Ash Wednesday is Feb. 14. I wonder what the secular world is going to do about “Valentine’s Day,” but in the liturgical life of the Church, Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent take precedence. I hope to see ashes on the heads of all faithful Christians on the 14th and suggest you wait until after “Valentine’s Day” to buy your candy and celebrate with a loved one. There should be some great sales.

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

The Holy Father’s Lenten message quotes from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold” (24:12). Pope Francis encourages Catholics and people of good will to experience anew this time of grace with joy and in truth. The quotation the Holy Father chose appears in Christ’s preaching about the end of time, on the Mount of Olives, where the Lord’s Passion would begin.

The pope warns us about false prophets and cold hearts. He alludes to an image in Dante’s description of hell, of the devil sitting on a throne of ice in frozen and lifeless isolation. He asks us to examine our consciences: How is it that charity, which should be the fire of God’s love in us, can turn cold within us?

As Catholics have done for millennia, the Church, our Mother and Teacher, provides the “soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting” for our cold hearts.

The Holy Father says that by devoting time to prayer, “we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well.”

Almsgiving “sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbor as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone.”

Fasting “weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth … it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure … it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God.”

I join the Holy Father in asking all the members of our beloved Church to take up our Lenten journey with enthusiasm. Please attend our Men’s Conference on Feb. 17 or our Women’s Conference on Feb. 24. These have proven to be occasions of grace, mutual support, and learning. You are welcome to come to the Rite of Elect on Feb. 18 at the Cathedral. Your prayerful support of the men and women who are preparing to enter the Church at the Easter Vigil in a moving ritual, and your support is most welcome. Your participation in the CRS Rice Bowl greatly benefits our brothers and sisters in their need.

Pope Francis has asked the entire Church community to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the context of Eucharistic Adoration over a 24 hour period from Friday, March 9, to Saturday, March 10. In our diocese, this “24 Hours for the Lord” will be held at St. Benedict Church in Duluth. He asks us to be inspired by the theme from Psalm 130:4, “With you is forgiveness.”

Our Lent prepares us to enter into the Paschal Mystery of Easter with great joy and gladness. We resist our cold hearted temptations and open ourselves to the loving mercy of God.

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.