We are about to begin the first Lent of a new decade. And there is nothing like being in Rome for to prepare one for this period of recollection, conversion, penance and almsgiving.
Between February 10 and 15, I had the privilege of traveling to the Vatican on my first ad limina — or “to the threshold” — visit as Archbishop of Denver. These visits occur approximately once every five years and involve going on pilgrimage to the threshold of the apostles, that is, a visit to the threshold of the tomb of St. Peter and a meeting with the Holy Father.
During this time of meetings and prayer, I have carried the people of northern Colorado with me in prayer at the four major basilicas of Rome. And I have spoken to Pope Francis and the heads of the various Vatican departments about your faith and zeal, as well as the challenges we face.
The purpose of these visits is to provide the Pope, as the chief shepherd, with a sense of the health of the archdiocese. Naturally, there is also a spiritual purpose, which is to reaffirm our connection to the successor of St. Peter and to renew our own faith.
I shared with Pope Francis how there are many dynamic, faithful groups of believers in the Archdiocese of Denver, while also explaining that we have a growing number of people who say they believe in nothing. I also touched on how the surrounding culture is become more hostile to people of faith and the influence of faith-based institutions in society.
In Rome, you can witness stories of saintly lives in practically every Church you visit. I find this particularly fitting and a source of inspiration as we begin Lent in a few days. St. Peter and St. Paul did not come to Rome and proclaim the Gospel in a friendly culture. They both ended up giving their lives for Christ, speaking with their blood about the truth of the Gospel.
Every person is searching for authenticity and wants to believe in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whether they realize it or not. This Lent, I encourage you to reflect on three things to help you grow in your own witness, joining it to the Church’s cloud of witness over the centuries.
The first is to not give up on seeking forgiveness and interior conversion. In his apostolic exhortation Christus vivit, Pope Francis expresses it this way: “Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again. And when you go to confess your sins, believe firmly in his mercy which frees you of your guilt. Contemplate his blood poured out with such great love, and let yourself be cleansed by it. In this way, you can be reborn ever anew” (No. 123). If we rely on our own standard of mercy, we will soon grow tired of seeking forgiveness, so we must allow Jesus’ merciful love for us to prevail.
The second essential element of fortifying our witness this Lent is to spend time in personal prayer, dialoguing with God. Establishing this relationship is so vital because it strengthens us for moments we are given to witness to Christ. No one knows when they will be called to testify. But having our hearts rooted in prayer will prepare us for moments of encounter with others and for our final judgement.
The final aspect of Lent I encourage you to focus on is seeking out and loving the wounded Christ, who is present in our world today in the many victims of violence, and all those whose God-given human dignity is injured or destroyed by evils like human trafficking, assisted suicide and abortion. In addition, we can also comfort Christ on the cross through our charitable giving to the poor and vulnerable.
As we begin Lent 2020, I wish to reiterate my gratitude for the faithful of northern Colorado and to urge you to ask the Lord how he is specifically calling you to become a stronger witness for him. May we be inspired by the heroic lives of the many saints who have gone before us, both in Colorado and around the world.
Featured image: Vatican Media