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By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

Each year on March 19, Catholics throughout the world interrupt the austerities of Lent to celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph, patron of fathers and of the universal Church. Coming as I do from a Sicilian family, this feast has always carried a special significance. My father was not unlike St. Joseph insofar as he sacrificed mightily for his family. A man of deep and quiet faith, he showed me what it means to be a man.

My father could not have imagined the challenges involved in protecting a family from today’s relentless assault of pornographic material. It has truly become mainstream, nearly impossible to avoid even by the most cautious. This pornographic culture stems from, and feeds back into, an extremely distorted view of human sexuality. We are deeply confused about things my father’s generation would have taken entirely for granted, and the results of that confusion are everywhere evident.

When I was ordained a priest in 1965, two in ten marriages ended in divorce; that rate has more than doubled. Abortion then was illegal; today over a million babies are aborted annually in this country alone. Back then fewer than 300,000 Americans were incarcerated; now one in thirty-one adult Americans is in prison or on probation.

As a young priest in the 1970s, I served for a decade in campus ministry settings. In those years, the first fruits of the sexual revolution were already apparent. Pope Francis’s image of the Church as a “field hospital” in the midst of such wreckage would describe it well.

Today’s “field hospital” must aggressively treat the vicious cancer of pornography, which lies at the heart of our societal ills. “Unchastity,” wrote Joseph Pieper in The Four Cardinal Virtues, “begets a blindness of spirit which practically excludes all understanding of the goods of the spirit; unchastity splits the power of decision.” Over the years I have witnessed the nature and effects of pornography’s splitting powers in our families and communities.

Nearly eight years ago I wrote a pastoral letter on the subject, Bought with a Price, a new edition of which is being released today. The pornography epidemic is something to which all people of good will must devote more attention and talk about more openly, but first we need to understand something of the scope and character of the problem.

Those who deny that the act of viewing pornography has any negative consequences must understand just how toxic the situation has become. It may be that a man now in his forties, say, remembers being a curious adolescent, stealing glances at a magazine in a neighbor’s home or in the aisle of a convenience store. As morally problematic and harmful as that act surely is, such behavior was arguably slow to become habitual and the physiological and psychological consequences were infrequently severe. That experience is far removed from what young people face today.

The most graphic forms of pornography are now easily and anonymously accessible on the internet and on any smartphone. Many among us are now caught in patterns of addiction that rival those of drugs and alcohol in their grip on the individual, if not in the disruption that results in their lives. Depression, anxiety, isolation, marital strife, and job loss can all be intensified for those caught in the web of this addiction.

More subtly, though, current research underscores what we are hearing in the classrooms, counseling sessions, and in the confessional: This addiction is not merely behavioral, a bad habit that can be broken like any other. Chronic viewing of pornographic material impacts one’s brain chemistry in a manner that can “hook” a person and lead to a quest for increasingly lurid forms of pornography. Over time, more and more is needed to produce the same effect. The brains of habitual users of pornography are strikingly similar to those of alcoholics, and the part of the brain involved in moral and ethical decision-making is weakened by viewing pornography. Once brain chemistry is remapped, it becomes very difficult for one to “reset” to a sense of normality in the future. Any man can tell you that these images are often very hard to forget.

While the suffering experienced by the addict cannot be overstated, we must recognize that there is also social harm. As a pastor, I have seen how damaging this shift continues to be in family life, courtship, and marriage preparation. One of my great concerns is the impact this plague is having on children. What is their future if their parents’ marriage is destroyed by this type of infidelity, or if they themselves are exposed to such toxic material long before they are able to experience the joy of true love and romance? Even the smallest child today often has easy access to a parent’s or sibling’s smartphone and is surrounded by screens.

When my pastoral letter on pornography was first issued, a high school student in my diocese wrote that “if a person knew that after viewing pornography he would be a bad example for his kids, would objectify his spouse and friends, and lastly destroy his relationship and vision of God, he would not do it.”

Just as some drugs are described as “gateways” to more serious substance abuse, a young person who experiences lust disconnected from an actual human person is at tremendous risk for failing ever to understand the beauty of God’s gift of human sexuality. Is not the so-called “hook-up” culture evidence of this? In addition, while it is certainly not the outcome for all who become involved with pornography, might it not be reasonable to posit that the dramatic rise in human sex trafficking is partly fueled by a pornographic culture?

And yet, despite all this, there is hope. Both scientists and believers are sounding the alarm. We know much more about the physiological aspects of this addiction and how best to reverse them. Behavioral change is possible, though this is not simply a question of behavior.

This is not a problem a person can solve on their own. Alongside the central commitment to prayer, the communal element of the recovery process needs to be given special emphasis. Very often, a key factor in one’s descent into pornography addiction is a lack of affirmation, acceptance, and trust in one’s relationships. An important part of the ascent, then, can also be the sharing of this struggle with others, allowing their love and concern to aid in the healing. As Pope Francis has said, “No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God attracts us looking at the complex web of relationships that take place in the human community.”

Pornography thrives in the shadowy silence of isolation, but the warm light of love and friendship can do much to help cast it out. Women certainly have a critical role in this fight and should take a stance of absolute intolerance toward pornography, but in a particular way men need to be recalled to their God-given role as protectors of their families and of society if we are to overcome it.

A man in one of my parishes told me that Bought with a Price woke him up to the many ways in which his pornography use affected him as a father and husband. “I now understand,” he wrote, “that the true character of a man is shown in how he acts when nobody is watching.”

That is a lesson that St. Joseph, whom we honor today, knew well. Let the battle for purity begin.

Paul S. Loverde is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia. A new edition of his pastoral letter on pornography, Bought with a Price, is available at Amazon for Kindle and at www.arlingtondiocese.org/purity.

This article first appeared in First Things. View it here.

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By: Caitlin Bootsma

It’s a week into January. Have you made your resolutions yet? If so, have you kept them so far? To be honest, I can’t even remember the resolutions I made last year. I’m pretty sure there were health and financial components to them. I’m sure I made some progress on them, but they certainly weren’t permanent resolutions.

Bishop Loverde addresses us, at the beginning of this new calendar year, about our call to make permanent commitments — permanent gifts of self. While not dismissing the need to become healthier, save money, etc., Bishop Loverde reminds us that we were created to be a gift.
 
Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself” – Gaudium et Spes
 
How are you called to be a gift in 2013?

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By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

holyinnocentsToday, we remember the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those children who were slaughtered in King Herod’s attempts to kill the Christ Child.  The Gospel of Matthew recounts that all of the boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem under two years of age were massacred and “Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more” (Matthew 2:17-18).

This anguish is all too familiar to many of us in the wake of the senseless deaths in Newtown, Connecticut. Our prayers have been with those who have lost their young children, as well as those who lost loved ones who had reached adulthood. Many of you have shown your concern through support for those families, the local Catholic parish and the wider community.

One of the first questions that arise after tragedies such as these is: how can we work to prevent this in the future? Certainly, we must reexamine enforcing reasonable gun control and increasing our care for those suffering from mental illness. Yet, even deeper than our response to  those contributing factors, is the need to reclaim a respect for life in our culture.

Over the years, our profound respect as a culture for the dignity of each human person has slowly eroded. This lack is demonstrated in the gratuitous violence seen in video games and other forms of entertainment, in the overwhelming number of abortions of innocent children, through an increase in instances of domestic violence and, yes, in the way that we treat one another on a daily basis.

In remembering the Holy Innocents and all those that suffer from our society’s disrespect for human life, we must seek to renew our love for the sanctity of life. This renewal begins with you and with me; it begins in the family. We are called to educate children, so that they know how to respond to the violence they see in television shows, in news reports and even in the school yard. Each one of us is responsible for recognizing that each person’s life is an immeasurable gift. We cannot instantaneously cure the world of all of its ills, but one interaction at a time, we can begin to change the culture, thereby creating anew a culture of life!

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By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

Upon returning from my second visit to the diocesan sponsored missions in the Dominican Republic, I have been reflecting on what a mutual blessing these missions are for our diocese as well as for the people of the Banica and Pedro Santana parishes.

Bishop Loverde with diocesan priests and Dominicans

Banica and Pedro Santana are  rural communities located in the Dominican Republic on the border with Haiti. Fr. O’Hare, the current pastor of Banica and Pedro Santana, compared these extraordinary places to Nazareth, all three out of the way locations that people perhaps doubted would produce much fruit (recall the words of Nathaniel: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:43). Yet, Banica and Pedro Santana, like Nazareth where Christ was born, have produced a great many fruits.

My visit to both parishes last week was in recognition of the twenty year relationship between the Diocese of San Juan de la Manguana and the Diocese of Arlington. Accompanying me were three of the diocesan priests who had served there over the years (as well as Fr. Hanley and Mike Flach, the editor of the Arlington Catholic Herald). I was touched by the great love and admiration that the people had for their former priests. I was moved as well by the simple and profound faith of the people. They are impoverished materially, but have a rich spirit of inner joy and a communal spirit, ready always to assist one another.

Much has been accomplished through the rewarding relationship between our two dioceses. One physical manifestation of this is the new chapel at Sabana Cruz, which was a gift of donors from our diocese. Also, the Catholic community in each parish, with support from diocesan priests and volunteers, demonstrates its spiritual strength through its many altar servers as well as programs such as Bible studies for adults and young boys and girls. I had the opportunity to meet with college-aged men and women from these parishes who have chosen to serve the youth in their community, instructing them in the faith, while at the same time maintaining their studies and prayer lives.

I was inspired by the spirit of those living there as well as the challenges the priests and the missionaries (including three Brazilian sisters as well as lay people) encounter daily. For example, their outreach to those who lived out in the campos requires travels of up to five hours or more on a regular basis over rough roads, mainly unpaved with ruts. Yet, despite the difficulties, there is a joy that heartened me throughout my time there.

I certainly returned home exhausted by the rigors of the schedule, the unfamiliar and rustic setting and the effort it takes continually to speak a foreign language. Inwardly, however, I rejoice and am reinvigorated by the exhilarating growth in these people in the Dominican Republic. The people there remain in my heart and I urge each of you to continue to pray for our Dominican brothers and sisters as well as for the priests and missionaries present there.

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By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

As it gets colder in our area, busy schedules are definitely picking up the pace. If you are anything like me, you have more meetings at work, more social events to attend and more tasks to complete before winter. As we prioritize all of these things, Bishop Loverde has been encouraging us lately to focus on living out the faith in our families.

  • This past spring, he wrote about the gift that marriage is to so many of us. He writes: “Matrimony is a natural reality for humanity, a good thing created by God for the mutual love and support of man and woman and the procreation and rearing of children. In marriage man and woman form a beautiful living image of the Triune God as they live in a bond of self-giving love and welcome new life into the world” Read more here.
  • Several weeks ago, Bishop Loverde gave us four pillars on which to base our family life. He gives practical ways to integrate our faith into our lives – yes, even with our very busy schedules! Read more here.
  • In this week’s Herald, the Bishop focuses on how we can integrate the liturgical year into our homes. Consider reading through his suggestions and seeing if you would like to adopt any of these traditions in your home. Read more here.
In these columns, Bishop Loverde shares some of the traditions and ways that he has integrated the faith into his life. How does your family celebrate your faith? Are there special feast days you recognize, family traditions that you keep alive for holidays?

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By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

All too often it may seem that money is not only necessary, but that it dominates the way we live our lives. We need funds if we wish to possess almost any material object; we need it to raise our families; we need it to purchase food to eat and to buy or rent a home in which to live; we work daily to earn it. As American citizens in a modern culture, the “almighty dollar” plays a large, intricate role in our lives.

Money in itself is morally neutral. It is neither intrinsically good nor evil, but rather a tool that we use to accomplish various endeavors. But like any neutral object in life, money carries with it a certain temptation and potential for evil. The dollar may be “almighty” in the terms of the world, but we must keep our eyes on the Cross, not on a dollar sign! Scripture tells us that: “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Tim. 6:10). Note once again that money itself is not evil; the inordinate desire for it is sinful.

Greed has led to countless sins in the past and in the present. Wars are started to obtain more of it. Families are torn apart when money creates tension and division within them. Even in our own country, the poor remain vulnerable in many circumstances.

What is the antidote to these disordered uses of money? Scripture tells us in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:3).

This discussion about wealth and poverty should also lead us to consider the spirit of poverty to which we are called as Christians. Why is it that the Beatitudes tell us “blessed are the poor in spirit?” What does this mean? It means that even though we may be blessed with material goods, we must acknowledge that they are gifts, and that possessing them gives us a greater responsibility to put them in their proper place in our life.

Can I live without the latest trends and devices? Our lives and inner peace should not revolve around whether we possess the latest technology.

Can I simplify my transportation? Do I purchase the most impressive vehicle I can find, or do I live within my means? Do I waste resources needlessly? Do I walk when I can?

Do I need a large, luxurious house? Do I place an undue amount of attention on status, and the size of my home? Do I thank God daily for providing me with a place to live?

Are my vacations spent detaching from technology and treasuring relationships and nature? Do I constantly take elaborate vacations that are more about prestige than actual relaxation? Do I detach myself from devices such as laptops and cell phones and spend quality time with my family and friends?

Am I irrationally upset and angry if a possession is ruined? Do we realize that people are greater than things? Do we jeopardize our relationships with others when something material is damaged or broken?

Do I share my possessions? Do I realize that everything I have is a gift from the Father, and that part of the call to Christians is to share with those less-fortunate?

Do I complain? Do we realize that each of our lives is unique, and what is given to us by God is unique? Do we strive to maintain a grateful heart, thanking God for the blessings we have, rather than focusing on what we do not have?

What are some additional ways each of us can live out the spirit of poverty in our lives?

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By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

After traveling the winding roads to Winchester, I stepped out of my car and into Millbrook High School to see hundreds of tired teenagers, with joyful smiles, socializing in the school hallways. It warmed my heart as they greeted me, their enthusiasm and good nature shining through their faces, their camaraderie with each other apparent and inspiring.

This past week was the first session of the annual WorkCamp, where teenagers and adult supervisors from our diocese dedicate their time and talents to help make local homes safer, drier and warmer for residents in need by performing home repairs. I was blessed to spend Tuesday evening and part of Wednesday with the participants of this program, which is run by the diocesan Office of Youth Ministry.

Bishop Loverde serves up a spoonful of peas to a hungry WorkCamper.

We began Tuesday evening with dinner, where I was privileged to spend some time in the kitchen serving peas in the cafeteria line to the workers after their hot day in the sun. It made me smile that a fair number of the teens told me, with laughter, “Peas be with you, Bishop!”

After sharing the meal, we began an evening of prayer, Confession and Benediction. After some singing, I spoke to the young people emphasizing how much the Lord Jesus loves each of them and urging them to develop and deepen a personal relationship with Jesus Christ within the community of His disciples, the Church.  After a long day of hard work, the teens’ enthusiasm had not lessened – rather, when the availability of the Sacrament of Penance was announced, many of the young people jumped enthusiastically to their feet to stand in line. My brother priests had also traveled from all around the diocese to spend an evening ministering with me to the teens.

WorkCamp teens put the finishing touches on a back porch.

I was moved to see the devotion to Our Lord in the Eucharist through their prayer and song. It brought to my mind once again that WorkCamp is so much more than just a week of service; it is an opportunity for young people to come before Our Lord, growing closer to Him and stronger in their lives through the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance. They are also given direction and encouragement from speakers and mentors on how to live the spiritual life in the natural world, in particular, by offering a gift of self through acts of service, thereby putting Faith into action

How refreshing to see joy clearly stamped on their faces, whether the young people were eating peas, receiving forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, or pounding nails with hammers at their worksites on Wednesday morning. I visited several homes where crews were busy adding improvements, painting and cleaning up yards. Their happiness and smiles were contagious; the way they conducted themselves brings to mind a Psalm verse: “They will rejoice before God; they will celebrate with great joy” (Psalms 68:4b).

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By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

With schedules crawling to a summer pace as vacations and long weekends appear on the horizon, along with prioritizing which tasks need to be accomplished each day and what meetings should be scheduled each week, we may find ourselves with more time to consider some deeper questions. This is a time to commit ourselves to asking with renewed curiosity: “Where is God leading me? How may I become an instrument to bring others closer to Him?”

These larger questions naturally encourage a consideration of one’s vocation. While the word “vocation” is used in a variety of ways, as a Church we understand it as a calling from God to which we are asked to respond. Blessed Pope John Paul II poses to us this question:

Deacon Silva with his family on the day of his diaconate ordination

“What do you seek, pilgrims? Each one of us here must ask himself this question. But you above all, since you have your life ahead of you. I invite you to decide definitively the direction of your way. With the very words of Christ, I ask you: ‘What do you seek’? (Jn 1:38). Do you seek God? The spiritual tradition of Christianity not only underlines the importance of our search for God. It highlights something more important still: it is God who looks for us. He comes out to meet us (Pope John Paul II, Compostela, Spain, 1989).

The challenges of discerning one’s vocation may make us feel as if we are divided into two camps: those of us who “have one” and those of us “who do not yet have one.” While it is true that some have not yet fully discovered God’s will for their calling in life, each of us is called on a day-to-day basis to discern how God wants to work through us.  Every day, each of us must take seriously that daily charge to live for Christ, in every aspect of our work, our relationships and our prayer.

Being caught up in the celebration and joy of those occasions, when we see the smiling faces of new priests or newly married couples, we may forget all the sacrifices and choices that were made before each person arrived at that point.  Recently ordained priests or new spouses did not reach that pivotal moment without considerable discernment and dedication to living lives of holiness. Each of them asked deep questions, facing their own lives with honesty: “How am I called to live my life?” “How may I best serve God?” “Will I give my life to the Church?” “Is this person next to me the one I want to live with for the rest of my given years?”

Intellectually, it is easy to understand that in major decisions, timing is extremely important and, as the familiar adage tells us, that “good things come to those who wait.”  Practically speaking, however, living with patience and commitment to the present day can be stressful and taxing, especially when one is young and bursting forth with energy.  Young people often understand very clearly that they are called to do great things for Christ, but sometimes, waiting for the “what” and the “when,” that comes with true discernment may lead to discouragement or the temptation to doubt that the Lord has a plan.

I urge you brothers and sisters, to be at peace and know that God does indeed have a plan for each of us – a very special and unique plan! You need only to look to priests that you admire or couples for whom you have great respect to know that Our Lord also desires to call you to a life of happiness with Him.

Regardless of where you are in your vocational discernment, I encourage you to view summer as a time to take a step back, to ask Our Lord about the major decisions in your life and to take the next step on the path of holiness on which He is leading you! Keep in mind that every day, God calls us to the joy of deepening intimacy with Him. After all, this is the universal vocation to holiness, from which every other more specific vocation flows.

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By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

 Have you ever experienced your cell phone battery dying in the middle of a conversation? Perhaps you were having an animated discussion and ignored the warning signals indicating that the power was low and, before you knew it, the cell phone stopped working.

It is not only cell phones that need a timely recharge, but also each one of us. The pressing demands of daily life, compounded by the pressure of the instant communication provided through cell phones, email and texts, ensure that we rarely have peaceful moments. Our own batteries become worn down and we need a recharge. The solution for us, however, is not as simple as plugging into an outlet for two hours.

Rather, to truly recharge, we need to step away from the busy-ness of our lives to take time for daily prayer, participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and even a longer spiritual retreat. As I wrote to you last summer about my own annual retreat, I value this time to open my mind and heart more fully to Our Lord, and I come away with a renewed sense of my vocation.

The Church recognizes the necessity of retreats for a healthy spiritual life and, in fact, requires them for all clergy, explaining that, “In leading their lives, clerics are bound in a special way to pursue holiness since, having been consecrated to God by a new title in the reception of orders, they are dispensers of the mysteries of God in the service of His people” (Code of Canon Law, 276).

While the priestly ministry naturally calls for daily spiritual activities, including the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice and praying the Liturgy of the Hours, it is beneficial for our clergy to participate in a spiritual retreat that provides them with a deeper union with the Lord Jesus so necessary for their ministry. A number of priests participated in a spiritual retreat this month (this is one of three such retreats offered to our priests this year).

A retreat provides the opportunity for renewal, and reconnecting with Christ

Recently, after attending a retreat, one of our priests reflected that spiritual retreats rarely break new ground. The themes and activities, which typically include the celebration of the Eucharist, prayer, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, are familiar and constant. Yet, this is exactly the point. A retreat is a renewal, a deeper reconnecting with Christ. During their retreat, our priests reflect upon the Gospel and its meaning for their vocation. They return to their pastoral work refreshed and reinforced in their relationship with Christ.

In addition, all of the priests of the diocese gathered earlier this month for a convocation, which is a time of spiritual renewal, priestly fraternity and continuing formation. Although the Convocation is not a retreat, it does provide our priests another form of renewal.

While the Convocation and these retreats necessitate priests occasionally being absent from your parish, they will return to you refreshed and with a renewed sense of purpose.  I ask for your prayerful remembrance of our priests, that they may hear Christ’s call for their lives more clearly to strengthen their ministry so that they can better serve you and all parishioners.

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By: Bishop Paul S. Loverde

We truly misunderstand the purpose of Lent if we think of our Lenten observance as yet another goal or task on a checklist. We likewise misunderstand if we consider our Lenten sacrifice as simply a duty to fulfill, relying solely on our own strength of will to accomplish it.

We may have chosen a particular sacrifice because we recognized that this penitential act would have side benefits, like weight loss or healthier eating. While it is true that refraining from eating sweets may reduce our waistlines, it should be clear that this is not the primary end of our actions.

 

Through our Lenten observances, we unite with Christ in His suffering.

In fact, when we perceive these sacrifices merely as a challenge on the path to self-improvement, we are missing the central focus of fasting and penance: union with our suffering Lord. Rather, these sacrifices offer us the opportunity, in a special way during these 40 days, to make a conscious prayer to Our Lord each time we choose to have water instead of a glass of wine, to read the Scriptures instead of watching television, or to kneel to say a family Rosary instead of checking Facebook. Let us pray to Him during these days, “Lord, give me the grace to demonstrate my love for You through a recognition of my weaknesses and a sacrificial act that reminds me of Your Presence in my life.”

 

Through this recognition that Lenten sacrifices are an offering of love to the Lord, we are able to recommit ourselves each day to these actions.  If we slip and either forget or neglect to observe our Lenten practices, we should not be disheartened! Lent is not a contest – we have not lost the race if we are not as steadfast in our commitments as we were on Ash Wednesday.

Instead, our lapses are another reminder of our radical need for God’s gift of grace in our lives. We can learn much from Saint Faustina who truly recognized that it is the Lord Who gives us our strength.  In her diary she wrote, “O my Jesus, how very easy it is to become holy; all that is needed is a bit of good will. If Jesus sees this little bit of good will in the soul, he hurries to give Himself to the soul, and nothing can stop Him, neither shortcomings nor falls, absolutely nothing” (Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy in My Soul, 291).

With this trust in the Lord’s mercy and love, I invite you to join me as we recommit ourselves more intentionally in these last days of Lent to the Lenten practices we have chosen. As we contemplate the suffering of Christ and His desire to give His own life for us on the Cross, let us bring our prayerful sacrifices to Him, thereby demonstrating our love and allowing ourselves to be more united to Him each day.

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