Beginning the Season of Lent

Greetings everyone and thank you for the comments you send to my blog. I wish you all a blessed Season of Lent.

For Catholics, Lent is a very important time which, of course, begins with Ash Wednesday. I am always amazed at how Ash Wednesday seems to capture people�s imaginations and their desire to connect with the Church. So many people mark this moment by participating in the distribution of ashes.

On Ash Wednesday, I celebrated Mass at St. Francis Chapel in the Prudential Center. The chapel is located in the middle of a shopping center. The crowd at the Mass was full of young people � professionals, shoppers and students. It was wonderful to see that there was standing-room only. They had already had four Masses and they were going to have another three!


The chapel is located inside the
Prudential Center in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood


St. Francis Chapel


As you can see, the chapel is located inside a bustling mall


Distributing ashes at St. Francis Chapel


Father David Yankauskas, OMV

Ash Wednesday services are a very important moment in the life of the Church because the call to conversion is sounded through the liturgy. It is a time when people are most inclined to take their spiritual life seriously. Certainly, the penitential practices are all very, very important and I would certainly encourage people to try to spend time in spiritual reading this Lent, particularly reading from the Gospels in the New Testament, which are the basis for our Christian life.

Ash Wednesday services bring great crowds throughout the Archdiocese of Boston. We also had a large group at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Wednesday evening where I celebrated a bilingual Mass.


Blessing the ashes


�Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return�

I also want to share with you my Lenten letter, published in this week�s Pilot:

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

Lent always begins with the powerful symbol of ashes. I love to see people walking down the street with the smudge on their foreheads. I feel a sense of solidarity with fellow believers who are saying to the world: �I believe in God who created me. I am a sinner doomed to die, but in God�s love Jesus Christ stepped in front of the bullet to save me. And I am a Catholic. And Lent is here.� A little bit of ashes says so much.

One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the story of Jonah who was a reluctant prophet. He was afraid to deliver the bad news to the people of Nineveh: �In 40 days God is going to destroy your city because you are all so wicked.� The king and the people put ashes on their heads, fasted and prayed and the story has a happy ending. God says, �I forgive you. I shall spare your city.� I am always amused by the fact that Jonah was disappointed by the outcome. He had been looking forward to the fireworks. God however is always working for a happy ending. The ashes remind us that we come from dust, and it is a round trip. But the ashes are placed in the shape of a cross. The dust has been redeemed! God so loved the world that He sent us Jesus as our Savior.


Religion and jogging are seen in our pluralistic society as optional extras. Even the churches seem not to question this assumption. Much energy is expended demonstrating that religion is a desirable �optional extra.� So religion becomes a product to be sold, just one of many pathways to individual fulfillment.

But in fact, we are made with an orientation toward God. We are made for God. The ashes on our foreheads should be a sign to all of the urgency of the Gospel. We are the Ninevites and our story will have a happy ending only if we take the Word of God seriously.

Sometimes we want to follow Jesus at a safe distance, like Peter on Holy Thursday after Jesus is arrested. Sometimes we want to be invisible Christians blending into the landscape. Yet Jesus reminds us that: �You are the light of the world, a city built on a hill cannot be hidden� (Matt 5:14). Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that discipleship is as visible as light in the dark, as a mountain in the flatland.


The Sermon on the Mount begins with Jesus gathering His disciples around Him to teach them. The Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes are not a list of requirements but a description of the life of a people gathered around Jesus.

Lent is a time to circle the wagons, to live more intensely our union with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters in the Church. I would certainly encourage participation in the Men�s and Women�s Conferences on March 17 and 18 as a joyful Lenten experience. To reduce Lent to a 40-day long crash diet or exercise program is to miss the boat. Discipline is a part of Lent, but only in the context of penance, which means �conversion of heart.� Fasting, almsgiving, mortifications are not themselves �penance� but rather the fruits of penance.

The visibility that Jesus calls for in the first part of the Sermon on the Mount is qualified by His rebuke of those who practice righteousness in order to be seen. We are to be the light of the world, but we are to give alms in secret.

Jesus� admonition that we avoid calling attention to ourselves through practice of piety implies that not only is it important what we do but also how we do it. Our external actions take on value in God�s eyes when they reflect the love and humility in our heart. Our focus must not be on our good deeds but in following Jesus and in being gathered with the other disciples around Jesus.

Prayer helps us shift the focus from us to God and to deepen our awareness that any capacity to do good works is itself a gift from God. We do not congratulate ourselves for good works, but rather we thank God that despite our sinfulness and limitations, God can make His Goodness shine through our actions. Virtue is not to be understood simply as what we do but rather what has been made possible by the gifts we have received.

The only true success that guarantees the happy ending is a life of discipleship where we manage to make a gift of ourselves to God and to others. Lent should help us in the process. Prayer, works of mercy, Mass and confession are all part of the formula for a good Lent.

As the fattest people on the planet and people most addicted to entertainment, a little mortification is in order. It is a way we say to God that we are sorry for our sins, and it is an opportunity to experience in some small way the hunger and deprivation of so many of our brothers and sisters. The money we save also affords us the possibility of giving alms to help relieve the hunger and misery in our world.

So, we begin our 40 days with the people of Nineveh and ashes on our forehead. We accompany Jesus who fasted and prayed for 40 days, and we join the 150,000 adults who are preparing to be received into the Catholic Church in the United States on Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil. For all of us, Lent is a Baptismal Retreat and at Easter we will solemnly renew our baptismal promises. Lent is an important part of our spiritual journey. Now is the time to get on board.

I shared this letter with those attending the bilingual Mass at the cathedral. I added the following in Spanish:

Hay una leyenda que habla de un pordiosero que estaba pidiendo limosna al borde del camino. En el horizonte vio aproximarse un pr�ncipe en una carroza dorada. El se entusiasm� pensando que iba a recibir una gran limosna. El pr�ncipe se detuvo, pero se qued� muy sorprendido cuand� vio al pr�ncipe bajar de la carroza y, en vez de darle limosna, extender su mano pidi�ndole algo. El mendigo rebusc� en su bolsillo donde ten�a las cosas que hab�a ido recibiendo ese d�a. Sac� un granito de ma�z y lo puso en la mano del pr�ncipe. El pr�ncipe subi� en la carroza y se fue. Esa noche, cuando el mendigo vaci� sus bolsillos, llenos de lo que hab�a recibido ese d�a, hall� entre las cosas una pepita de oro. Y �l pens� y dijo,. �Si lo hubiera dado todo! La Cuaresma es un momento para dar nuestro �todo� al Se�or. Las cenizas que vamos a llevar en nuestra frente recuerdan que la vida es un poco de tiempo, y al crep�sculo vamos a descubrir el tesoro que nos espera, o el vac�o. Todo depende de c�mo vivimos nuestras vidas. Si damos nuestro �todo,� imitando as� la entrega total de Jes�s. La Cuaresma es un despertador, una alarma para espabilarnos y encaminarnos hacia nuestra meta que es el Reino de Dios.


Greeting worshipers following the Mass


Helen Hurley,
a resident of Cathedral Parish

I want to reiterate our invitation to participate in the Men�s and the Women�s Conferences that are coming up on March 17 and 18, respectively. They will be held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in South Boston. We know that the conferences have been a special moment of grace for all of those who participated in the past. Last year we had over 50 priests hearing confessions for hours. People received so much from the conferences and from the experience of being with fellow believers and feeling the support of the testimony of the faith of so many men and women. It is a very unique opportunity for Lent. I hope many will take advantage of it.

Usually before Lent I send a letter to the priests inviting them to prepare their own rule of life because the danger is that we who are ministering can become so caught up in the activities and services that we are giving to the people that we can lose sight of our own need to make time and space for God. Making that time will make our own Lent a time of renewal and a deepening of our relationship with the Lord. With the letter I also sent a book for them to read this Lent. It is a lovely book entitled �The Bread of Life� published by the Daughters of St. Paul . It contains many prayers, devotions and meditations on the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament.


– – –

Since my last post , I attended to two social functions with the priests � one with the priests in the south region and the other with alumni priests from Boston College High School. In the south region, Father Kelly and Deacon Pat Guerrini organized an opportunity for the priests to come together at St. James Parish in Stoughton. Likewise, the Jesuits at Boston College invited the alumni, including Bishop Hennessey, to meet. The Jesuit community at BC has been inviting the priests for many years as a pre-Lenten activity, and the priests are very appreciative. Both meetings are important opportunities for priestly fraternity. They are gatherings that are opportunities to get to know the priests, share with them and enjoy their company.

– – –

On Friday I traveled to the Elmbrook Student Center in Cambridge, an Opus Dei residence for students near Harvard University. I was there for a Holy Hour with them. We also had dinner, a conversation about spiritual topics with the students and a performance by the students where they sang and played musical instruments.


It was an inspiring conversation


They did a great job with the music


It was encouraging to see such a large group
of young people who take their faith seriously

Opus Dei has worked in the Cambridge area for many years and has been a spiritual oasis for students and young professionals. Elmbrook provides them with the opportunity to receive a spiritual formation and to celebrate the sacraments. I think it complements the very good campus ministry that is based out of St. Paul Parish where I will be going April 10 to celebrate Mass at the Harvard Catholic Student Center.

– – –

I celebrated Mass for the Masters of Arts in Ministry Program on Saturday. The program has a couple of retreat days each year, including this winter retreat. Students, some graduates and some people interested in the program attend. The day-long gathering takes place in a beautiful chapel at the Campion Renewal Center in Weston. It was a lovely setting. After Mass, we had a question and answer period, and we talked about ministry and the challenges of lay ministry in the archdiocese and in the Church in general. We all recognized that the need for lay ministry is always growing in the Church, and in the future it will take on even greater importance.


Speaking about the challenges of lay ministry

Sister Mary Pierre Jean Wilson, Aldona Lingertat and the others who run the program are very dedicated. They stress not only the intellectual formation of the students but also building a sense of community among them and helping them to cultivate an interior life that will allow them to have spiritual resources. These spiritual resources must complement the intellectual and theological training for ministry in the Church. This retreat is just one more way they try to attend to the spiritual needs of their students.


From left to right, Aldona Lingertat, MAM’s associate director,
Sr. M. Pierre Jean, R.S.M., director and Maryellen Lenihan, secretary.


The group participating in the retreat

– – –

The Charismatic Renewal had a two-day conference in Lynn, and I joined them for Mass on Sunday. They were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the charismatic movement, which began at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh in 1967. Many of the local prayer groups were there. In all, 1,000 were in attendance, many of them young people.


A thousand people attended the conference


Greeting the participants

It was not specifically a Brazilian event, but I estimate that nearly 80 percent of the participants were Brazilian and most of the Mass was in Portuguese. The Charismatic Renewal has given many of our immigrants a sense of community, of belonging and that is very important. Many of them had experienced charismatic communities in their own countries. Joining a such a community here is a way for them to find a spiritual home in our archdiocese. I am grateful to the leaders and the priests who minister to them and help these communities to thrive.


Some enthusiastic members of the Charismatic Renewal
and Father Claudio Peters who coordinated the event


It was nice to be able to spend some
time meeting people following the celebration


The charismatic movement in the Church has been a great source of spiritual renewal for many people. It has helped many to develop a deep appreciation for the scripture, for a life of prayer and for the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives, both individually and communally in the Church. The Mass was characterized by the joy and the uplifting music. That music is something the charismatic movement promotes, particularly in the Brazilian community.


It reads: United by the fire of the Holy Spirit.
Amen to that!

– – –

Thursday night I had a meeting with the Deacon Community Board. As the priests and the diocesan pastoral council meet periodically with the cardinal, so too do the permanent deacons. The Board has representatives from all the regions and its role is to share with me their concerns, aspirations and plans of the diaconal community. Deacon Leo Donoghue, director of the Office of the Permanent Diaconate, is always present and Father Bill Kelly from the Office of Clergy Support is also part of the Board.


Sharing a light moment with Deacon Leo Donoghue


Father Bill Kelly

It is always very uplifting to be in touch with our deacons. We currently have 246 permanent deacons Their ministry is very important in our archdiocese. The deacons have the special role in fermenting unity in the Church. The Holy Spirit guided the Church to form the diaconate to help to bridge differences and to bring about unity among God�s people. I am also very grateful for the support they receive from their wives, who share in the ministry of their husbands.


The meeting began with a time of prayer


During the discussions

– – –

Finally, the following two photos from my visit to the St. James Society in Peru did not arrive on time for my last week�s posting. The priest who took them was back in his parish in the mountains � La Sierra � and had no way to send them to Boston until he returned to Lima.

In the first photo, I am pictured with�the four new members of the Society of St. James. Msgr. Finbar O’Leary,�director of the Society, is at my left in the photo.


As my photo of the week, I’ve chosen this group photo of the priests of the Society of St. James taken just a few days ago who are currently serving the poorest among the poor in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Please pray for them and for their ministries.


21 thoughts on “Beginning the Season of Lent”

  1. I love the Charismatic Movement within our own Church. Are there any Latino or even English speaking groups? I think it should be made possible to click the pictures to look at larger image of it.

  2. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    This is my first post but perhaps not my last. The men of God of the St. James Society in Peru reminded me of a time years ago when our pastor, Xavier Morras, of St. Juliana Church, WPB, FL took vacation time to visit a seminary classmates who was serving in an area of Central or South America. His enthusiasm and Holy excitement was quite noticeable on his return to us. It occurred to me that a program that followed a similar pattern, that encouraged our US Diocesan priests to spend 6 months or so in service to these areas would go a long way toward renewing the faith here in America. Certainly many lay members of the Church might take the opportunity to join the priest friends in service as well. Consider it! Henry Stevens, Diocese of Palm Beach, FL

  3. Dear Cardinal Sean
    Thank you for this good and inspiring work.
    I am a diocesan lay leader, and your work always inspire and encourage me .
    God bless you
    Robert Ssempa
    Kampala Archdiocese – UGANDA

  4. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    I personally liked seeing you and the priests of the St. James Society in your casual dress. It is not priestly garb that draws people to God, but the goodness from within a person that radiates out to bring us nearer to God.
    God bless. Rosemary

  5. Your eminence,

    I am a Catholic from Indonesia, 49 father of 3 grown up sons and a lawyer as my wife. I found your website by providence. It fascinates me that you find time and effort to show your reflections through bloggers. My prayers are with you and your apostolate as a Bishop.

    Semper Reformanda
    Jeffrey Dompas

  6. As for the blogger who wrote about praying for Catholic/Christian children in public schools–we need to start realizing that good Catholic schools are the preferable way to form the whole child. And not only pray, but pay for that education!

    I am paying $3500 per child (a bargain!) and I would pay more if I had to because of the spiritual formation my kids are receiving! (Even though we don’t make a lot of money – but we don’t go on vacation, we drive old cars, etc.) Ofcourse they are at a school run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia, so my kids are being formed spiritually and intellectually by very holy (and smart) Sisters. Recently, my third grader took part in a play about Dominic Savio with enough spiritual wisdom to mull over for a year! And the children in this school are really getting the idea that they are called to be saints!

    I do believe, as Catholics, we need to immerse our kids in the faith-whatever way we can. Then send them out to the world to discern and decipher how to respond to secular culture. If we have done our job well, they will be able to transform, through love, that very culture we send them out to. However, if they are educated and immersed in secular culture from an early age, they may not know how to seek truth in their own lives or that there is a truth to be sought.

  7. Thank you Cardinal Sean for your blog site. May wife and I are residents in Berlin, NH. I went to St. Joseph’s Parochial School in the old West End of Boston, taught by the wonderful Sisters of Notre Dame. This is my second marriage, my first wife having left this earth 10 years ago. My wife is going through RCIA at the present time, with my sponsership. Sunday we had a beautiful service – “The Rite of Election” at the Cathedral in Manchester, NH presided over by Bishop McCormack. The most wonderful part of this was that there were hundreds being received into the church, and most of them were young people. I ask you for your prayers for my wife Nancy during her journey into the fullness of the Church. Thank you, and God Bless You.
    Nat Gianino

  8. Dear Cardinal Sean:

    As a Lutheran Pastor in Phoenix, I enjoy your blog…good to see your closeness to the saints in your diocese.

    A slight clarification, however: On Ash Wednesday, I was vested in purple chasuble, celebrating the Eucharist in my parish and administering ashes in the same manner as you did. Lent is for Lutherans too!

    May the Lord of the Church bless our service to Him in proclaiming His Word and administering His blessed Sacraments!

    Padre Dave

  9. Thankyou, Cardinale Sean for all that you do and who you are in Christ Jesus. You are an incredible gift to the Church and to the Body of Christ…Here is our gift to you, an internet video (interview with David Parker and his plea to not have the homosexual agenda infiltrate the elementary school systems of America specifically the Lexington Public School System). Your encouragement towards encouraging others to do ministry relating to the issues of the day has inspired us towards a media apostulate on the internet and cable. Be blessed!

    Just click on the link to go to the You Tube Site:

  10. Dear Cardinal Sean, May I ask for your special prayers for my Great-Great neice, Abigail Casale who was born at 23 weeks, 1 lb. 7 oz. She is still in the hospital until what would have been her full term , sometime in mid April. She has miraculously made it to 3 lbs. + at this time. It looks like God is watching over her, but a few extra prayers might help. Her Mom, Dad, and 2 1/2 yr. old twin sister and brother in Duxbury would also appreciate. Thank you, God Bless and keep up the good work. Gratefully, Shirley St.John .

  11. I would say the biggest priority to pray for this Lent is the children in Massachusetts public schools who call themselves Catholic or Christian, who will be subjected to diversity ed at kindergarten. This family stuff will not just be simple books on different families it will be a new composite of sexual trans behaviors that will cause the confessionals to be cleaned out and mass produced don’t you think?. Maybe some new private schools should be in order. I remember paying 10.00 in the parish and 20.00 out to go to a good Catholic school. Maybe if tithing were implemented more schools would be affordable again. According to the Judge last Friday who decided the David Parker/Lexington public school case, take your kid out or homeschool is the only answer to the public school sex ed question. Do we have any reaction to this nightmare in the making this lent? The fear of man bringeth a snare. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. At least the voucher system should be in place so decent people do not have to contribute to the delinquency of minors in this decision. The Judge had the nerve to say this was not a religion issue. Can you believe that. visit Get the whole transcript. This menche of a Jewish father Brian Camenker, and David Parker and the Wirthlins of Lexington are battleling for all parents and where is the comradary…Camenker is taking on the whole state and who will stand up and be counted in all this and back him up and unite the parents to react with righteous outrage vehemently?. This is about homogenous gender immersion and the signs are all around us. How many rapes of little folks will have to happen to wake this country up. I know the trouble is so close. God save the USA My religion is clearly against this behavior. Do you have catecumins prepared for the people to hide in? Where is the church in all this. I do not hear you?

  12. Thanks Cardinal Sean for the blog and what you say to us. This is my first venture into belogdom. I was particularly interested in your column in the Pilot (and here) which reflected on the Book of the Prophet Jonah. I have used Jonah for years in teaching teens about God’s presistent love of his people. So often in their struggle to clarify their personal identity and figure out what the should do with their lives, they forget God has a plan for them. The story of Jonah is great in showing them how God’s persistence in guiding them is the best way for them to figure out who they are and what they will do. Using humor, I like to point out that when we get of the path he seeks for us, he may “dump us into the sea of life” (because we retain our free will) and lets us get “swallowed up” in life’s chaos ( so that we will experience what the loss of God is like) and he eventually “spits us back up” on the path he has set out for us and then “calls us” once more to follow his lead. Jonah’s final “tantrum” also reminds us that life is a process of becoming redeemed and even after we do surrender to God’s will we don’t always “get it”.

    Again, thanks for being our pastor and shepherd. Jack S

  13. “Acknowledging with greatful hearts, the goodness of the Great Legislator of the Universe, in affording us, in the course of his Providence, an opportunity,…………and devoutly imploring His direction……………”.” It is the right as well as the Duty of all men in society, publickly and at stated seasons to worship the SUPREME BEING, the great Creator and preserver of the Universe.”
    Your Eminence Bishop Sean:
    These quotes from the first three paragraphs of the Massachusetts state constitution , probably by John Adams, indicate not only the Christian foundation for the document, but in addition, the founders’ natural law assumptions. I mention this as a preface to a question:
    Why do the faithful rarely, if ever, hear any mention of the natural law from the Church’s teachers ? It seems to me to be a vital understanding as a basis for the current task of motivating all citizens of the commonwealth to correcting the marriage question, the evil of homosexual acts and “rights”, as well as other basic cultural issues.
    How can this teaching be more emphasized ?

    Norm Vail, a sheep bleating to his shepherd.

  14. Cardinal
    I am so impressed with not only your blog, but with the variety of your pastoral visits and Masses. From Opus Dei to the Charisamtic movement to your priests and decons … truly pastoral!

    John, the word “blog” comes from weB LOG. Sort of an online diary for anyone who chooses to put their lives and opinions out for the world to see.

    God bless you, Good Shepherd!

  15. Dear Cardinal Sea`n:
    I don’t know what the word Blog means. I tried looking for it in the dictonary and can’t find it. I don’t have an i-pod so I guess I have to get one and find out. Anyway I am impressed by the work you and others are doing in spreading the word of love and Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church is not just a Church down in some intersection in Marysvill, but it is a nation on this earth. This is what I see shapping up; A City On A Hill. We look to our Supreme Court to protect the right of all rights, instead the wrong of all wrongs were created there. Now we must look at ourselves as a Church to bring about justice and peace throughout the world. This calls for our support and sacrifices -John J Curti-

  16. Drogi Kardynale naprawde ?adny blog ?wietny pomys? mia? Kardyna? ?eby za?ozyc tego bloga ciekawe kiedy ktry? z Polskich Kardyna?w wpadnie na ten pomys?
    Pozdrawiam i ?ycz? Powodzenia w dalszym prowadzeniu Bloga i w Dalszej pracy Duszpasterskiej z Panem Bogiem Marek z Be?chatowa z Polski 🙂

  17. I liked that you began Lent in a mall… that is a good place to begin as a good succesor of the Apostles…

    I also celebrated the Mass for the 40 Aniversary of the Charismatic Renewal in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
    With my prayers for you:
    Father Roberto Mena, S.T.

  18. Hey, wait a second Sharon, the Cardinal is not in clerical garb in the first photo… (I don’t think you mean to correct the Cardinal??)

    Who could disagree with you in general–but how do you know these men aren’t relaxing on their day off?

  19. I am sure that these priests are doing God’s work but if they were readily recognisable as God’s men they might lead even more people to the Faith.

    Clerical garb is a witness to everyone that the wearer is working for God and is set apart.

  20. I guess I’m the only one who found the Comments button here at the end of the page.

    Thanks for your post. I’m inspired by everything, but in particular by the photo of the priests of the Society of St. James–seeing the joy in their faces, but, yes, also signs of years of service to the poor, a noble crown.


Comments are closed.

February 2007