Happy Lent! By the time you are reading this we will be a couple of weeks into Lent. I hope and pray that this time of reflection and renewal is going well for you and helping you grow in your friendship with Jesus. Even if these first few weeks have been a struggle, there is still an opportunity to refocus and invite Jesus deeper into your heart.
The season of Lent begins with the words of the prophet, Joel, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart” (Joel 2: 12). This theme of repentance, of turning our hearts back to God, is carried throughout these 40 days in our readings. No matter what has happened in the last year, no matter how we have slipped and fallen away, God never stops reaching out to us to invite us back. Our Father loves us so deeply! Yet, in the busyness of life, it can be hard to remember. Even during Lent, we may get distracted and lose our focus on Jesus. That’s why it’s important that we make time to pause for prayer and praise.
One of the lessons the Holy Spirit has been drilling into my brain is the need to pause and slow down. I don’t know about you, but it’s so easy to get caught up in all the tasks that need to be accomplished each day. Many of these activities are “good,” but when they crowd out the space for God in our lives, they become a problem. So, if we really want to turn back to God this Lent, we must pause, and “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46: 11).
Slowing ourselves down to be in the presence of God is the beginning of prayer. When we pray, we make space to let ourselves be loved by the Father. As St. Teresa of Kolkata said, “Jesus loves you tenderly, you are precious to him. Turn to Jesus with great trust and allow yourself to be loved by him.” I encourage each of you, if you are not doing so already, to build a habit of prayer this Lent. Take a little bit of time each day, if possible, before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and receive the love, mercy and healing that God wants to offer you. I promise, you will not be disappointed.
As we turn to God in prayer, we become aware of the many daily blessings and graces that God offers to us. Recognizing these blessings leads to gratitude, which is the key that opens the door to praise. Praise of God can take many different forms, but at its core, praise is about laying ourselves before God and offering him everything that we have. It means abandoning ourselves completely in trust to our Father. This act of surrender is the path to true freedom.
Friends, I hope you will use these remaining weeks of Lent to pause for prayer and praise. To assist in your efforts, I invite you to join me this coming Monday, March 8, for a special Lenten evening of reflection. This virtual event will take place from 6:30-8 p.m. and all are invited to participate. I will guide our reflection, using music, Scripture and prayer as we give praise and glory to God. You can find more information or register at gbdioc.org/pause.
Brothers and sisters, God’s healing mercy and light are open to us if we approach him with an open heart. He wants to love us, to free us, and to give us hope. I pray that each of you will receive and accept the love God desires to give you!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.