March 3, 2019

As we gather for this 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we look forward to the beginning of Lent on Wednesday. On that day we will begin our annual journey of preparation and renewal by smudging ashes on our foreheads and remembering that we are dust, “and to dust we shall return,” and to “repent and believe in the Gospel.” Those two options for the imposition of ashes give us good context for our spiritual work over these next 6 weeks.

This journey, with the traditional disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, helps to re-focus us on what is most important in our lives. The point of Lent is to prepare ourselves, and those who will join our community of faith at the Easter Vigil, for the great celebration of the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As we begin Lent, remembering that we will all return to the dust of the earth from which we came, we can take stock of our lives, and give up those things that are getting in the way of our relationship with God, and take on those things, those practices that can help us draw closer to him. Acknowledging that we are dust and we will return to dust is not, for us Christians, something to despair about.

We know that God has created us from the dust of the earth, and as we return there, he promises to raise up those mortal remains and to take us to himself. The admonition to use this time of Lent to turn around (repent of) anything that might get in the way of our relationship with God, is our preparation to receive that gift of new life that the Lord wants to give us.

We take on this journey as individuals and as a community of faith. This year we are particularly aware of the need for repentance in our Church, especially on the part of Church leaders who have betrayed the trust of those who are vulnerable.

Last week, Pope Francis gathered in Rome with 190 leaders of Bishop’s Conferences throughout the world. The gathering was designed to put the whole universal Church on “the same page” as much as possible around the crisis of sexual abuse and cover up in our Church.

For many bishops this was a tutorial on the reality of the crisis and how to keep children safe and make their abusers, and those who cover for them, accountable. The bishops heard from victims of clergy sexual abuse. The victims shared stories about how their experience was ignored or covered up by Church leaders.

The meeting concluded with promises to enact concrete reforms that would keep children safe. Many of those reforms will be modeled on what the Church in the United States has been doing for the past seventeen years.

For us in the United States we are preparing for a set of policies and practices that go beyond what we have already been doing. We have seen a dramatic drop in credible accusations of abuse by priests and other Church leaders. This is evidence that our safe environment policies are working. Children are safer in the Church today than they were twenty years ago.

However, where we are still lacking is in accountability for bishops who either cover up abuse or abuse children and vulnerable adults themselves. For us in the United States, there is also reason to hope. Policies are being developed by the U.S. Bishops, to be voted on later this year, that place into Church law consequences for bishops who abuse and who cover up abuse.

As we begin our journey of Lent, we are hopeful for our own personal repentance and conversion as well as the repentance and conversion of Church leaders. May the Lord strengthen all of us on this journey.

God Bless,
Fr. Gary Lazzeroni