Lent - Season of High Purpose

September 11, 2001 was a jolt. The horrific intrusion into everyday life stirred us instinctively to prayer: prayer by ourselves, prayer with others. Religious services and civic observances drew large crowds. Participation in the Masses on weekends shot up. Those with a merely secular outlook said that people simply wanted to be together.

There was more to it. Attendance did level off, but for the most part remained higher than it had been prior to September 11. But there was more. For whatever period of time it lasted, and for some it still goes on, people had a glimpse, a perception of higher purpose in their lives.

So many wanted to do something immediately. The police officers, firefighters, counselors, clergy and religious who traveled from distant parts, many from Western New York, to converge at Ground Zero were effective symbols of that aspiration. The immense outpouring of donations to assist the families of the victims was unprecedented.

Once again goodness might have been trampled upon, but it - you - refused to stay down.

With the passage of months we appreciate more deeply that grasp of higher purpose we so carefully harbored. We realize now, however, that its pursuit is more than a sprint. The quest is more that of the long distance runner.

Some years ago there was a movie entitled "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner." The point I"d like to make here, however, is that the long distance run in pursuit of high purpose, while lonely at times, has to be more than that. Lent is the penitential season and a prized opportunity to grow in that realization.

Sure, prayer and fasting, expanded during Lent, can appear to be lonely at times. They situate us, though, in deeper communion with God, more in touch with reality.

Let"s not forget that the source and summit of our Christian lives is the Eucharist, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. It is our anchor and our rudder. It is always edifying to see the dramatic increase in participation at daily Mass during Lent.

This Lent should be more distinctive than usual in that regard. Every parish in the Diocese is expected to conduct instructional sessions, catechesis, on the new "General Instruction to the Roman Missal." Over 400 priests and deacons participated in preparatory sessions on the "General Instruction" last fall, and the tone of every gathering was highly enthusiastic.

Videotapes are available to assist the parish meetings now. There are a few changes in store, but nothing close to earthshaking. I am convinced that our people will welcome the "General Instruction" wholeheartedly and be elated with the results. We look forward to ever more beautiful and proper celebrations of the Mass throughout our Diocese.

Our participation in the Mass cannot be complete without a clear understanding that our celebration both lifts up our works of charity to God and sends us forth to greater service. Jesus teaches us that the works of mercy are non-negotiable mandates for entry into the Kingdom. Thus we go forward to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, care for the imprisoned, and (we add) bury the dead.

We move beyond loneliness to be more involved in the Catholic Charities/Bishop"s Fund for the Faith Appeal, both in our contribution and our personal work. The goal is $10 million this year. The needs have escalated precipitously. You know the reasons: recession, job cutbacks, September 11th consequences on available government funds, etc. People coming to soup kitchens and food pantries have tripled in number since last year. It is not by accident that the Appeal is conducted during Lent, the big week being March 17th to March 24th, Palm Sunday night. It comes early this year!

As we work to make a living and support our families, we don"t forget those who have no work. We expand our vision to consider helping out in our parishes, schools, religious education programs, the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), adult education. We look to assist in hospitals, nursing homes, home health care programs. We get involved in community service agencies, ministry with migrant workers. If our parishes are developing the Spirit of Church program, partnering urban and suburban parishes and rural parishes as well, we might offer our services there.

As a way of expressing gratitude for the gift of our faith, we might invite someone, or two, to consider entering the Catholic Church. Don"t alienate them. That might produce loneliness. We remember, though, that it is by the works of charity for the poor and the needy that the Church has been attractive to new members over the centuries. We can"t do it all, but all of us can do some of it. Lent is the time for more intense spiritual exercise. It is the reminder that every one of us is created for high purpose.

Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell
Bishop of Buffalo
February 1, 2002