Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Having just returned from my ad limina visit with our Holy Father Pope Francis the visit was very special. Me and my brother bishops from region XIII, which is made up of the dioceses of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming, were blessed to be able to celebrate Mass at all the major basilicas in Rome. It was especially special for me as I took all the people of the Diocese of Pueblo with me in my heart as we celebrated each Mass.
A major highlight of our trip was my brother bishops and I met with Pope Francis for over two hours. What a blessing! When it was my turn to ask the Holy Father a question I asked him what message he would like for us to communicate to our youth. He paused for a moment and really thought about my question then he very passionately said, “tell them to follow Jesus Christ”. How fitting that we begin this season of Lent with those words of encouragement.
Lent is an invitation to follow Jesus into the desert. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, Lent is the primary penitential season of the Church’s liturgical year reflecting on the forty days Jesus spent in the desert in fasting and prayer. As we follow Christ into the desert our attention is directed to three very important aspects of our Catholic faith. These aspects are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
In our first reading for Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel speaks the word of God saying, return to me [the Lord] with your whole heart. The desert is a place where we take a deep look at the direction of our hearts. As God asks us for wholehearted attention amid a world that is constantly vying for our focus the words of the prophet remind us that during Lent we are asked to remove those things that distract us from God so that we might grow closer to his merciful love. This is done through prayer and fasting.
Finally, as we seek deeper holiness and union with Jesus in the desert, the graces we receive during Lent create in our hearts a desire to share Jesus’s presence with others. Sharing his presence takes many forms such as supporting others by our kind words, an unexpected smile, and giving alms. Supporting ministry to the poor, by almsgiving, not only furthers the mission of the gospel throughout the world, but the gospel message is also proclaimed to us as through the poor who remind us that through the Incarnation of Jesus he enriches us with his poverty.
May you have a deeply fulfilled Lenten journey as we all seek to follow Christ.
With prayerful best wishes for a blessed Lent, I am,
Most Reverend Stephen J. Berg
Bishop of Pueblo