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40 days to encounter Christ

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On March 9, Catholics around the world begin a spiritual journey that culminates with the Easter Triduum on April 21, 22, and 23, whose grand finale is the joy of Easter, the resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.

The first words said by the Church at prayer on the first day of Lent convey the perfect tone for the whole journey: Lord, you have mercy on all and never hate your creatures; you erase the sins of all who repent and forgive them, for you Lord, you are our God. (Cf. Wis 11:23-26)

On hearing about Lent, some think at once of fasting, penance, and sacrifice. However, the first thing that should occur to us is Christ, who comes to meet me in new ways, because his mercy is always new and in that way we are renewed.

On the first day of this journey, our forehead is sealed with ashes, with a few simple words. I am amazed at the attraction of the ashes, which draw so many people to come and receive them. I usually go to one of our universities every year, and this is the most attended Mass of the academic year. I think that this rite of ashes reveals how the human heart needs salvation, forgiveness, and craves the chance to start over again in Christ. It is the cry that the psalm, The Miserere, expressed so well: "Cleanse me of sin ... and I shall be whiter than snow, let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness" (Ps 51, 2.9-10).

This Lent 2011, we in the archdiocese will host, for the first time, a festival of forgiveness. Archbishop Thomas Wenski, after consulting the Presbyteral Council, took the initiative to convene a weekend of reconciliation. Immediately before the start of Holy Week (Friday, April 15 and Saturday, April 16) a number of parishes will be offering the sacrament of forgiveness, providing plenty of time so that the sacrament can be received by the greatest number of faithful.

I hope the invitation for this weekend will reach those alienated Catholics who do not come to church on Sundays, those who feel anger at some mistreatment, etc. I hope that practicing Catholics will pass on the invitation via a phone call, e-mail or a conversation at work, during a break, etc. I've noticed that the Catholic laity evangelize very easily through pleasant conversation and friendly, personal relationships.

John Paul II said that holiness is the most urgent pastoral task of the Church. For the baptized, it is contradictory to lead a mediocre life, looking for ways to make the least effort and practicing a superficial and wobbly piety. This is the purpose of Lent: that while accompanying Christ in the desert, you might be able to discover his face and find in Him abundant life, so that you might in that way be blessed with a new beginning in Christ, Redeemer of all.

Comments from readers

Claudia H. Herrera- Catholic Campus Minister - 03/09/2011 10:58 PM
Dear Bishop Estevez. Thank you so much for your beautiful article; full of wisdom and encouragement especially to the young people in College. It really touched me when you said: "This rite of ashes reveals how the human heart needs salvation, forgiveness, and craves the chance to start over again in Christ." Definitively, it is amazing how the mystery of God works through the rite of ashes, which attracts —so humbly—in a powerful way the human heart of our college students who are hungry for Christ, who are hungry for a second chance to start over and meet the extraordinary love of God. To me, the affirmation of "being faithful to the Gospel" brings all of us hope in the future, hope in each human heart, in each life on Campus while we remember that we are God's hands and feet to go and spread the good news.

Thanks for all your support and prayers with Catholic Campus Ministry at FIU-BBC in Ash Wednesday. May the Lord continue blessing your Ministry and your great work with the community. In Jesus and Mary.
Oscar Sanchez - 03/09/2011 06:58 PM
Monseñor. que maravilloso es poder sentir el animo que nos da su reflexión para encaminarnos al encuentro personal con Cristo, sentido y razón de nuestra existencia.

También que rico que nuestra Iglesia ampliara por este fin de semana de abril los orarios del sacramento de la reconciliación que es tan importante para el camino espiritual que empezamos hoy.
Cheryl Whapham - 03/09/2011 04:40 PM
Bishop Estevez,
Thank you for your words of wisdom as we begin this holy season. I was on the USCCB website today and once again they have many great FREE online resources for people to use to help us encounter Christ on our lenten journey. I thought some of the readers might be interested.
May the Lord continue to bless you in your ministry and in your vocation.
Carlota E. Morales, Ed. D. - 03/09/2011 02:59 PM
Dear Bishop Estevez,
As always, your article has so many thoughts to ponder. How true it is when we think of penance and sacrifices, but often seem to forget the only important thing, Christ Himself. Last night as I was reflecting on this Lenten season, that for some reason I find it to be different than others in my personal life, I was rethinking and rereading your your article. Thank you for being so clear. Thank you for being so trueto our faith and the teachings of the Church. Thank you for always be the good shepherd who we can approach.
Yesterday, today and tomorrow,
Carlota E. Morales, Ed. D.
Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic School

Bishop Estevez - 03/08/2011 10:13 PM
Maria Cristina: Los Atletas de Cristo nos enriquecen. Los atletas pudieran correr la voz del festival del perdon convocado por el Arzobispo Thomas especialmente los catolicos no practicantes para que a traves de nosotros les llegue la invitacion y la informacion donde ir.
Betty: best wishes to Beatriz. When one sees Christ in the other one is truly blessed.
Antonio: I agree in a way it is easier to receive ashes than to give one's heart to God as St. Ignatius prayed: Take Lord receive...(suscipe).
María Cristina Lascurain - 03/08/2011 02:28 AM
Monseñor Estévez

Muchas gracias por esta hermosa reflexión que nos ayuda a prepararnos para el Tiempo de Cuaresma que se inicia el próximo Miércoles de Ceniza.

Muy acertado su enfoque en relación a la "misericordia de Cristo", y muy oportuno para este tiempo de cuaresma. Cuando descubrimos la misericordia de Cristo en nuestras vidas nos hacemos más sensibles y atentos a las necesidades de los otros.

Bella iniciativa de nuestro Arzobispo con el Festival del Perdón! Excelente oportunidad para acercar a aquéllos que se han alejado un poco de la Iglesia, al que no frecuenta la parroquia.

Nos unimos a esta iniciativa suya que sin duda es fruto de la inspiración del Espíritu Santo.

Que Nuestro Señor le bendiga y proteja siempre,

María Cristina

BETTY BERNAL - 03/07/2011 10:24 PM
Antonio Fernandez - 03/07/2011 03:12 PM
Mons. Estévez:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and guidance as we prepare ourselves to start our Lent practices and spirituality.

I strongly agree with you, that as we approach this holy season, the first thing that we should do is to consider our relationship with Christ and how to turn ourselves into a real and wholeheartedly adherence to Him.

Few days ago a very close friend of ours, challenged us saying: "I wonder if this event [Lent] has any meaning today?" My answer was that our answer will depend on the meaning that Christ and the Church has for us.

I strongly agree with your interpretation of the overflow of people attending our Ash Wednesday Masses. We need to do something to convey to everyone the same source of meaning and richness of our profound relationship with God in the rest of our liturgical celebrations.

God bless you father-bishop!

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