Pope Francis invites us to reflect on the celebration of Lent, echoed in the opening words of his message:

“Lent is a time for renewal for the whole Church, for each community and for every believer.  Above all, it is a time of grace”.

“…the gate between God and man, between heaven and earth, opens once for all.  The Church is like a hand holding open this gate, thanks to the proclamation of God’s word, her celebration of the Sacraments, her witness of the faith that works through love.”

In the light of these words, people should be encouraged to find space for God during Lent by attending Mass, by spending time in private prayer, especially Eucharistic Adoration and by acts of penance.   People are encouraged to reflect prayerfully on the daily readings over the days of Lent.

“If we humbly implore God’s grace and accept our own limitations, we will trust in the infinite possibilities which God’s love holds out to us”.

These words from the Holy Father give us reason to reflect on the gift of God’s mercy.  Opportunities for Confession should be provided over the whole period of Lent and not just during Holy Week.  Encouraging people to seek the mercy and forgiveness of the Lord is as essential part of the season of Lent.

“Every Christian community is called to go out of itself and to be engaged in the life of the greater society of which it is part, especially with the poor and those who are far away”.

The Trocaire Lenten appeal gives expression to this invitation and should be supported in all parishes.  The focus of this year’s appeal is Ethiopia, a country where Trocaire has worked for several decades.  Ethiopia is precisely the sort of community the Holy Father has in mind when he draws us “to the poor and those who are far away”.

The Holy Father’s message for Lent calls for “acts of penance”.  This is an opportune time to consider taking a break from alcohol.  There is an immediate financial benefit as well as developing a positive impact on one’s physical and mental health.  The Pioneer Association is inviting you to make this commitment for Lent and to offer the sacrifice as a prayer for someone you know who has a problem with alcohol or drugs.

Finally, with an emphasis on the theme of “mercy”, we will find that Lent is not just about what we can do – in charity or in penance – for the benefit of others.  When we allow Lent to take us on a pilgrimage of mercy, we ourselves become transformed, as Cardinal Kasper points out in his recent book:

“What is mercy?  It is not only a matter of a general love of humanity, which is not at all objectionable if it doesn’t simply amount to hollow words, but becomes concrete in deed. It is not simply a matter of compassion with the suffering, which is quite positive in comparison to hard-heartedness and egoism. It is not even a matter of ideas for making the world a better place. In this regard, the Bible is very realistic. It knows: “You always have the poor with you” (John 12:8). What ultimately is at stake in Christian mercy is the encounter with Jesus Christ himself in and through those who suffer. Therefore, mercy is principally not a matter of morality, but a matter of faith in Christ, discipleship, and an encounter with him.”

+ Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath