GREAT LENT 2019
To the Reverend Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Diocese of the West
Each year, we are given ample “warning” that Great Lent is approaching. The Church, for weeks, begins to move our minds to the effort to which we are called. And yet we constantly seem surprised that it is here! Great Lent is so easily understood as seven weeks of “following rules.” Which foods we can eat, how often to come to services, how often to come to confession, which books are better to read? The opposite temptation is to look at our Lenten effort as a bunch of “negatives.” Which foods are we not supposed to eat, what am I supposed to “give up” as my discipline?
But the warning lights that have been flashing in the Church for more than a month now teach us something different. We begin with Zacchaeus, hear about the Publican and Pharisee and the Prodigal Son, are warned about the Great Judgment at the end of time, then are finally reminded by the Lord that if “you cannot forgive men their trespasses, neither will your heavenly Father forgive yours.” The common lesson is that our faith is the faith of the Other. Zacchaeus sought out the Other, the publican couldn’t even look up to the Other, the Prodigal returned to the Other, the redeemed at the end of time are redeemed because they cared for the Other, and finally we bow down before the Other seeking forgiveness.
The Other, of course, is the Lord Jesus Christ, and Great Lent is our journey towards His Passion, Death and Resurrection. But it is also obvious from the lessons the Church has given us that our faith is exercised by seeing the Other in each other. The rules of Great Lent mean nothing if they are not ultimately manifested in the way we treat each other as the Other. St. John Chrysostom asks “Why do you fast from fish and fowl when you devour each other?” Perhaps our greatest Lenten effort isn’t how much we fast, pray, come to church, confess our sins and give to the poor, but rather our greatest effort is to begin all those by seeking the Other, transfiguring our meager efforts into spiritual feats as great as the Saints because they are infused with the presence of Christ Himself and the power of the Holy Spirit.
I ask each of you, my spiritual children, to forgive me as we enter into the holy tithe of the year. I wish for all my faithful parishes and each and every one of you a most fruitful and joyous Fast. May we all rejoice in the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection at the end of these most holy days.
With love in Christ,
Archbishop of San Francisco