On Wednesday, we will begin the Holy Penitential Season of Lent.

This season of Lent recalls the forty years spent by the Israelites in the desert while on their way to the Promised Land. During that time, the Israelite people experienced what it meant to live in tents without a fixed home to live in. They totally lacked security. They were often tempted to return to Egypt, where at least there was a supply of bread even though it was the food of slaves.

In the wilderness of the Sinai desert, God Himself provided water and food for His people. He protected them from every danger. For the Hebrews, the experience of being totally dependent on God became their path to freedom from slavery.

The Lenten season is both an invitation for each one of us to grow and a challenge to change through prayer, fasting and good works. Lent is a time of grace; not something to read, but rather, it is something to celebrate. It is a wonderful opportunity for each of us to do some “spiritual housekeeping and growth.”

There are things about each of us that need to change; we know it deep down in our hearts and yet we resist God’s grace which quietly invites each of us to growth. Even though we know we are often in a spiritual rut, we become comfortable in our lifestyles. The Lord tells us: “You did not call upon Me, you grew weary of Me. You burdened Me with your sins”.

The Holy Season of Lent will challenge us to let go of any way of thinking or acting which keeps us from full communication with God and one another.

Our sense of urgency for renewal is compounded by the struggles of today. We live under the threat of terrorism. World leaders work to avert a major war. Were striving for healing and hope in the Church after reports of sinful and shameful abuse on the part of members of the clergy. The family unit is breaking up, and the moral fiber of our society, poverty and homelessness, the killing of the unborn, and many other injustices continue to grow daily.

There truly is an urgent need for the mercy and healing power of God. This Lent is a sort of long retreat for each one of us. It’s a time for us to renew our Baptismal commitment and our relationship to the Lord and to His Church. Lent is a renewed call to holiness so that in the words of Isaiah, “God will remember our sins no longer.” . This means that our Lenten prayer, fasting and almsgiving is intended to be a call to holiness – a “new springtime in the Church”.

There is a false notion that the Second Vatican Council did away with traditional practices such as prayer, fasting and penance in the season of Lent. The Council reminded us of the importance of these practices and encourages us to embrace these practices in joy, knowing that our acceptance of these penances of the Cross leads to the Resurrection.

This Lent, additional Masses and times for confessions will be offered in our Basilica parish. Stations of the Cross will celebrated on Friday evenings at 7:00 pm. followed by Confessions. Even if it is a sacrifice to attend there celebrations, I encourage you to make the sacrifice. At the moment of death, no one regrets time spent in prayer, time spent with the Lord, time spent with the Church in prayer. Pray with your family. Take your children and young people to the ceremonies of Lent. Our youth are not only the future of the Church, they are the Church. We must train them in the ways of our Faith. God is more important than sports, television, computers, or any of the other “priorities” we hold.

The penance of Lent is a personal invitation from Jesus Christ to embrace deeper conversion to Him. The penance of Lent calls us to be salt and light in a society in which the salt of Faith has been watered down and the light of Faith has been dimmed. We can be the salt of the earth, and the light of thr earth if our Faith rests not on the so-called wisdom of the world, but rather on the power of God.

Through the 40 days of Lent, may each one of us rededicate ourselves to Jesus Christ and to His Church by works of prayer, fasting and almsgiving!

May we respond to Lent’s personal invitation from Jesus to “go up to Jerusalem” with Him: to be re-converted to Him and todiscover a deeper union with Jesus Christ by taking part in the mystery of His Passion, Death and Resurrection. As Catholics, we must direct our entire lives to Him, for we know, as St. Paul tells us: in this world we have no lasting home: “our citizen-ship is in heaven”.

The Gospel call to be close to Christ is an invitation to each one of us to examine our own lives through a Lenten journey of faith. Christ goes before us in this journey. He invites us: “Take up your cross and follow in My footsteps”. His presence on the journey is both a source of strength and encouragement: He sets us free and makes us witnesses of Love.

My friends, let us fearlessly go up with Christ to Jerusalem and accept His invitation to conversion, so that we may cling more fervently to God, the Holy and Merciful One. I pray that this Lent will strengthen each of us so that in dying to ourselves, we will rise to newness of life with our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.