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The Bishop’s Message for Lent: Prayer, Almsgiving, and Fasting

The Bishop’s Message for Lent: Prayer, Almsgiving, and Fasting

The Bishop’s Message for Lent 2024

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The Season of Lent is a time for repentance and conversion, during which we prepare for the Paschal Feast. We have 40 days ahead of us. Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, just as Noah stayed in the ark for 40 days. Meanwhile, the chosen people wandered in the desert for 40 years, as they were escaping the slavery in Egypt. Those were days of both purification as well as preparation.

The Liturgy on Ash Wednesday brings us close to the mystery of humanity wounded by sin. The ashes symbolize the death caused by sin. However, the ashes are also symbols of the hope of conversion, and thus of redemption. During the first centuries of the Church those wishing to receive the Sacrament of Penance would sprinkle ashes on themselves and would appear in front of the community clothed in a “suit of repentance.” This testified of their willingness to convert and repent. It would be beneficial also for us to go to Confession in order to receive the forgiveness of our sins and the grace to be faithful to Christ.

How can we make concrete the goals for Lent? In the Gospel Jesus shows to us three things which we need for a spiritual life: prayer, alms giving, and fasting. These three are like legs supporting a table. This table represents one’s sanctification as a Christian.

Prayer in the desert was the first step in the public life of Jesus. Living and working for the glory of God begins with prayer. If we wish to be faithful Christians, it is important to pray. What oxygen is to the lungs, such is prayer to the soul. Before doing or deciding anything, it is necessary to pray and ask for help in order to do things well. When meeting people, it is good to pray for them. This year, based on the request of Pope Francis, we celebrate the “Year of Prayer.” The pope exhorts us to “renew our desire to be in the presence of the Lord, to listen to him and to adore him.” How often do I pause to pray in silence in order to hear God’s voice? Do I read the Gospel every day so I can know Jesus better? Could I meet Jesus more often in the Holy Eucharist?

The giving of alms is a sign of generosity towards God and our neighbor. Giving, as well as an outward surrender, are essential in order to be emptied of oneself. I may not have enough money to eliminate poverty from the world, yet I may help the poor through the Church. Do I donate money to the needs of the Church? How do I treat the poor? It might be possible for me to serve them by doing something for them. At times the poor consist of the wealthy people who have no one close to them. Loneliness may indeed be a great poverty. Sometimes giving alms may mean using one’s time helping others.

Jesus speaks also about fasting. We are a body and a soul. For this reason, also the body is important for prayer. The body can participate in prayer by fasting. A fast cleanses both body and soul. Before heaven, the body must take part in spiritual exercise and fasting is the best form of this exercise. Through the resurrection the body will again be unified with the soul. Some examples of fasting can be found in the Lenten Regulations given by the Bishop. The matter pertains to fasting for the senses, as well as to developing self-discipline. One wants to be free of things. A moderate fast is healthy for the whole person: the intellect functions better, the will is strengthened, and the heart loves more deeply.

May this Season of Lent be for all of us a time of growth in love towards God and our neighbor!

Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, pray for us during the wandering of this Season of Lent.

In Helsinki on Feb. 11, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

+ Raimo Goyarrola
Bishop of Helsinki

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