“May this season of grace be a time of joy for each of you.”---Bishop Deeley
PORTLAND---“Lent is about drawing closer to the Lord Jesus, whom we try to imitate in our own lives,” Bishop Robert P. Deeley told the assembly. “We involve ourselves in penances, in sacrifices, in giving up, so that we are more aware of what we have.”
Hundreds filled the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland on Wednesday afternoon, March 6, as Bishop Deeley celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass (additional pictures below), marking the start of Lent, a period of prayer and penance leading up to the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection.
During the Mass, the bishop blessed the ashes which are made from burned palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The ashes were then placed on people’s foreheads in the form of cross, while the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts, and they recall for us how it is people go from dirt to vibrant human beings: a loving God.
The bishop told the assembly that three words (fasting, prayer, almsgiving) are key to understanding Lent. The practices are intended to help the faithful achieve a conversion of heart by focusing more fully on deepening their relationship with Christ.
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics fast and also abstain from meat. That abstinence continues on the Fridays of Lent. In addition, many Catholics fulfill a personal fasting during the entire Lenten season, going without to acknowledge what we have and the source of all goodness.
“Fasting is a way for us to connect to God,” said the bishop. “By denying ourselves of something, we are acknowledging that we can be self-centered, and in that focus on ourselves we can forget about God. The sacrifices we make help us to realize that the season of Lent calls us to reform, to make ourselves more like the Jesus we profess we want to follow.”
Through prayer, Lent is a time to refocus on how God wants us to live.
“Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy,” said Bishop Deeley as he quoted a Lenten message from Pope Francis.
The bishop added that what we gain from our sacrifices can be given to those who are in need through almsgiving.
“The Christian life is not just about me and God. In serving others by our Lenten sacrifices, we make sure that our love for God flows into my love for my neighbor.”
One way in which Catholics care for each other during Lent is by participating in the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Rice Bowl program, which benefits the poor around the world.
During the Mass, the bishop blessed rice bowls, cardboard containers in which parishioners will place dollars and cents. Seventy-five percent of the money collected goes towards Catholic Relief Services’ worldwide ministry, while 25% is used within the diocese.
“Show us how to use these CRS Rice Bowls for your honor and glory and for the benefit of those who have less,” prayed the bishop.
CRS says even a dollar a day contributed during Lent can provide a family with food for one month. Individuals and families in the Diocese of Portland combined to raise over $62,000 for the Rice Bowl program during Lent in 2018.
“May the season of Lent be for you a time of spiritual awakening, may your prayer, fasting, and almsgiving deepen within you an appreciation of the love of God, and help you to be generous in sharing that love with others,” said the bishop. “May this season of grace be a time of joy for each of you.”
As we begin Lent, Bishop Deeley shared some thoughts on the pillars of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in a column that appears in the March/April edition of Harvest. To read the column, click here.
A special Lent section has also been created on the Diocese of Portland’s website featuring resources to assist you during your Lenten journey, including Mass times, special event listings, presentations of the Stations of the Cross, a “Saints of Lent” section, a Lenten calendar, faith formation and Scripture reflections, retreat information, ways to share your gifts, and Lenten messages from Pope Francis. The site will be updated throughout Lent.