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Bishop's Column

Bishop Barbarito Column
February 9, 2024

Lent, A Time to Slow Down and Listen


We begin the season of Lent this week on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14. The season is earlier this year, bringing with it an earlier celebration of Easter. It seems like we just completed the Christmas season as we enter into this particular season of grace. This year, Lent begins on Valentine’s Day and falls during leap year when Feb. 29 will bring an extra day to the year. We might say there’s more to the spirit of Lent this year as Ash Wednesday fasting will limit our celebration of Valentine’s Day, bringing a greater sacrifice, and Lent will have an extra day, making it 41 days instead of the usual 40.

Perhaps these small occurrences this year will help us to appreciate more the Lenten season into which we will enter. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has given us the usual message for Lent this year which emphasizes Lent as a season of conversion and freedom. The practices that we take up during Lent are meant to convert us more to the Lord, and through this bring us a greater freedom in life. The days of Lent are very much like a retreat.

Every year, Pope Francis spends the opening days of Lent on a personal retreat. This year, he will suspend his usual schedule and activities from the afternoon of Sunday, Feb. 18, to the afternoon of Friday, Feb. 23. He will not even hold his general audience on Wednesday, Feb. 21, and his next public event will be that of the Sunday Angelus on Feb. 23. The pope invites those who work with him in the Roman Curia to set aside these opening days of Lent to devote to prayer and reflection.

In his message this year, Pope Francis exhorts us to pause in prayer during the season of Lent. In this manner, we can concentrate on the word of God and understand better that word in our daily lives. We know how much we need to pause in our busy and noisy world today. With so many distractions before us and so many messages given to us, listening to the word of God is what focuses us and brings us to a greater freedom in life. As Pope Francis expresses, “Slow down, then, and pause! The contemplative dimension of life that Lent helps us to rediscover will release new energies. In the presence of God, we become brothers and sisters, more sensitive to one another: in place of threats and enemies, we discover companions and fellow travelers. This is God’s dream, the promised land to which we journey once we have left our slavery behind.”

The 41-day period of Lent into which we will enter on Valentine’s Day is truly a time of conversion and freedom, as we pause to listen to God speaking to us in a particular way. The usual rhythm of the Church’s life changes. She retreats from the ordinary cycle of liturgical readings and celebrations. The joyful Glorias and Alleluias are not sung and proclaimed. The color purple is generally worn for the celebration of Mass. The liturgical readings are intensely focused, and more time is set aside for acts of penance and the celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The Church does all of this not to get away from her usual life but to get back to her fundamental life, especially as it will be celebrated during Holy Week and the Easter season. During Lent, we are reminded of who we are and what we believe. The retreat of Lent gives us the opportunity to concentrate more on Christ so we will be more present to Him during the other seasons of our lives.

As we enter into this retreat, we are offered the opportunity to do something concrete in refocusing our attention to listening to Christ. There are so many practices and devotions we can undertake during this retreat to help us convert and discover more freedom. Acts of charity, acts of penance, more time with our families, more time in meditation on the Scriptures or before the Blessed Sacrament, Stations of the Cross, more frequent celebrations of the Sacrament of Reconciliation and, of course, the celebration of the Eucharist, are all practices we can undertake in Lent to help us appreciate more the Lord’s presence within our lives. Our Lenten practice might even be to deal with a difficult situation present in our lives in a more patient and understanding manner. No matter what we do, Pope Francis reminds in his Lenten message that, “prayer, almsgiving and fasting are not three unrelated acts, but a single movement of openness and self-emptying, in which we cast out the idols that weigh us down, the attachments that imprison us. Then the atrophied and isolated heart will revive.”

Lent is a joyful season. May its extra day and extra sacrifice on its beginning day help us to enter more deeply into the spirit of the season and to encounter the conversion and freedom of which Pope Francis speaks. Let us pause and listen to God, who truly speaks to us in our hearts, to find Him present there as well in the hearts of others. 


Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito