Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I would like to begin this month’s issue of With Joyful Hope: The Bishop’s Leadership Briefing
with a word of thanks to you, the pastoral leaders of our beloved Diocese of Kalamazoo, for all the ways you have helped our Year of the Eucharist
to begin so prayerfully. If you have been following the events listed in our diocesan weekly enewsletter, The Insider
, you are aware of all the activities taking place in our busy diocese. What has impressed me is not only the number of new activities taking place as part of our "Year of the Eucharist" (which are significant), but also the way in which Eucharistic themes are being integrated into all aspects of our lives as missionary disciples called to love God and love our neighbor.
I pray that we will all continue to ask the Holy Spirit to reinvigorate the Church here in southwest Michigan with a deep devotion to the Real Presence
of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. May we always seek His nourishment and His grace as we carry out our pastoral responsibilities in His Holy Name.
Reflections on Lent: Returning to the Lord
(from my Homily for the First Sunday of Lent)
Lent is a 40-day “retreat” that challenges us to pay particular attention to how we are living our lives, and to make whatever adjustments that are required to get us back on track, if we’ve wandered off course. And, if we’ve really gone astray, and have stopped practicing our faith, Lent is the perfect time to come back to the Lord and start over again.
During Lent, we hear a lot of words that have “re-“ as the prefix, such as: “re-pent”, be “re-conciled”, “re-new”, “re-solve”, and “re-turn”. As I’ve been preparing for Lent this year, and considering what “resolutions” I will be focusing on, that last word—return
—as the one that has been grabbing my attention.
Our lives are made up of little journeys, and bigger journeys. We “come and go” to different places each and every day. We get up, and prepare to go somewhere---to school, to work, to the store, to be involved in the responsibilities of each day; and at the end of the day, we return
Sometimes, we have to go on a trip---away from home for a day, or a week, or longer; and then our return home is something we usually anticipate, and depending on the nature of what has taken us away from home, we might be longing
to return home.
While I was away from the Diocese recently, I happened to be in a place that had a sign at the Exit which read: “Every Exit is really only an Entrance to someplace new!” I found that very fitting and somewhat profound. We’re always going from one place to someplace new, even if those “new” places are as familiar as our homes, because we come back there with new experiences.
But even more than our daily comings and goings, our whole life is a journey, and one day---at the end of our life’s journey---we will make that ultimate “return to the Lord.”
That’s why our Lord, speaking thru Joel the Prophet (cf. Joel 2:12-18) says: “Return to Me with your whole heart.....return to the Lord, your God.” And He reminds us that there is an “urgency” to paying attention, so that we are ready for that ultimate “return to the Lord”.
That’s what St. Paul means (cf. 2 Cor 5:20, 6:2) when he says: “We implore you.....we appeal to you.....Be reconciled to God....Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.....Return to the Lord
The resolutions of prayer, fasting, or works of mercy that we make during Lent should help us respond to what we heard when we received the blessed ashes: to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel
”. Sinful choices turn us away
from God; our Lenten resolutions need to help us to find ways to “re-turn” to God.
Jesus tells us not to pray, fast, or give alms like “the hypocrites do
”---doing those things just for show, or so that others can see what we are doing. No, Jesus tells us to keep this between “me and God”; “don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing
”; “go to your inner room, close the door, and pray in secret
”, “when you fast, put a smile on your face---don’t look glum or sad
” (cf. Mt 6:1-6, 16-18).
During these next 40 days, let us pray that, with God's grace and our firm resolve, we will stop turning away from the Lord through sinful choices, and re-turn to the Lord by loving God and neighbor with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength. When we do, then we will know what it means to repent, to be reconciled, to be renewed in Christ, to resolve to be faithful to the Gospel, and we will be ready to return to the Lord
, each day. And at the end of all our days, when we “exit” this world, we will “enter” into the new and never-ending Life with God in Heaven.