This month of February, we enter the sacred period of Holy and Great Lent, a season of the Church that accords us with splendid opportunities to prepare ourselves for the glorious feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we celebrate this year in April. Our journey throughout these next few weeks is, thus, of extraordinary significance for our spiritual lives. During this time, our occasions for prayer and worship are greatly increased, and our fasting efforts are deeply intensified. As we cultivate these important Lenten disciplines, we become the recipients of a magnificent myriad of spiritual fruits.
Foremost among these fruits is the restorative peace of God that fills our hearts when we focus upon Him. The peace of God is our remedy to all the barriers that potentially stand in our way of attaining a closer communion with Christ, the crucified and risen Lord. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul describes the peace of God as a peace which passes all understanding, and which keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (4:7). Through daily prayer and communal worship, we grow in our realization of His perfect peace. In turn, we enhance our relationships with others, for only with a peaceful heart may we cultivate the love, trust, and mutual respect among our neighbors which Christ commands us to develop (Matthew 22:39, John 15:17). Thus, the Lenten season is a time for enhancing our relationships not only with Christ, but also with others from all walks of life; it is a time to grow in the peace of God and in our awareness of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, an ever-present reality that binds all of us perfectly and willfully to the inexhaustible love of God.
With the peace of God also comes great spiritual liberation: the Lenten season is a time whereby we may gain deeper insight into our ethical behavior; it is a period whereby we cultivate the strength to acquire honesty with ourselves and the courage to practice humility in our dealings with others. These points are explicitly communicated by the classic Lenten prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, wherein we beseech the Lord for the ability to see our own mistakes and shortcomings, and to refrain from our judgment of others.
Lastly, the Lenten season aims to nurture within our hearts the important virtue of askesis - -spiritual struggle in the pursuit of godliness. Here, our practice of fasting is especially vital. The purpose of fasting extends far beyond a superficial abstinence from certain foods; it is a discipline that has as its principle aim our overcoming of all worldly pursuits or material desires that divert our attention away from our spiritual communion with God. Its purpose is to strengthen our capacity to focus constantly and consciously upon God, to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33) before all else. By defining God as the chief priority in our lives, we restore to our minds a proper view of reality in which He is the One who ultimately sustains us with our every need and nourishment.
The Lenten season now at hand is rich with many spiritual treasures and fruits that have the power to liberate our souls and restore our relationships with God and with others. During this sacred period, let us commit ourselves to drawing nearer to God through prayer, worship, and fasting, so that our faith in Him may continue to grow, and our hearts may be filled with His abiding love and peace. May this love and peace be with you and your families during this Lenten season as we approach the salvific Passion and the glorious Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Archbishop of America