‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel’

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My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Our church will enter the holy season of Lent in a few days, with the celebration of Ash Wednesday. During this time, the Catholic Church begins its 40-day period of penance and sacrifice leading to the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter.

Although I have been in Guam for only two and a half years, I am well familiar with how full our Catholic churches are during Ash Wednesday. As a priest, I can tell you, it’s a wonderful feeling when we see so many people present to celebrate the Body of Christ. Can you imagine then, how God feels? He is filled with joy!

So, please continue to come. Attend Mass this Ash Wednesday, on Sundays, all holy days of obligation, and as often as you can. Please also encourage others to join you; perhaps a relative or someone you know who has for some reason, stopped attending Mass regularly. It’s a wonderful way to open the season of Lent, helping someone renew their relationship with Christ.

As baptized persons, each of us will receive the mark of blessed ashes on our foreheads during Ash Wednesday Mass. As they place the ashes on our foreheads, the priests, deacons or assisting ministers will say these important words, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel,” or the more familiar, “Remember, man, you are dust, and to dust you will return.

The administering of ashes upon us is not the only way the church reminds us of our temporary existence on earth and the call to be faithful to our baptismal promises to God. In fact, the entire liturgical year in our church, the celebration of the Eucharist, proclamation of the Gospel, recitation of prayers, sacraments and special observances – as we worship our Lord, they all affirm our call to be faithful, obedient, and active followers of his Word.

However, because of its special emphasis on sacrifice and repentance, the 40-day period of Lent is one of those graces in our church that gives us the opportunity to grow in our faith and in communion with Christ. Called to practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we reflect on the 40 days that Jesus spent alone in the desert praying and fasting in preparation for his ministry here on earth. We are with him in prayer. He is with us in our deserts. Shall we let sin drive us away?

Pope Francis spoke of such communion with God, in his Lenten message this year. He warned all Catholics about the destructive power of sin and diminishing others, including God’s creation.

The pope said, “The root of all evil, as we know, is sin, which from its first appearance has disrupted our communion with God, with others and with creation itself, to which we are linked in a particular way by our body. This rupture of communion with God likewise undermines our harmonious relationship with the environment in which we are called to live, so that the ‘garden’ has become a ‘wilderness’ (cf. Gen 3:17-18).”

“Sin leads man to consider himself the god of creation,” Pope Francis continued. “To see himself as its absolute master and to use it, not for the purpose willed by the Creator but for his own interests, to the detriment of other creatures.”

The Holy Father urged everyone not to allow this season of grace to pass in vain.

“Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch,” he said. “Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.”

In each of your 40 days of journey with Christ, I pray that you find peace, prayer, and solitude in the midst of this busy world. Make the time, God will help you.

Sincerely in Christ,

/s/Archbishop Michael Byrnes
Archdiocese of Agaña

March 3, 2019