May we joyfully embrace the Risen Lord at Easter


Editor: Bishop, we are well into Lent. What is your advice to those who are struggling with our Lenten promises?

Bishop Vásquez: Lent is a time of renewal and grace. It's like a spiritual retreat that's given to us by the church so that we can prepare to celebrate Easter. I recommend we all take some time in prayer to take stock of our spiritual life and ask God what he wants us to work on spiritually. We can also take to God areas of our lives that we need for him to heal.

I think we often place high expectations on ourselves as we enter Lent. Go back to the basics and focus on the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These pillars open us to the grace of God. Please don't be too hard on yourself – make your Lenten sacrifice simple, practical and achievable. God knows our hearts and his mercy and compassion are abundant. If you are struggling, go back to the basics and renew your relationship with him during this sacred season of Lent.

Editor: What are fasting and abstinence? And when do we do them?

Bishop Vásquez: Fasting is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “refraining from food and drink as an expression of interior penance, in imitation of the fast of Jesus for forty days in the desert.” When we fast, we give up something, which allows us to practice self-control. Many times, there are foods, drinks or activities in our lives that can become addictive. Lent is a time to do without certain things to allow God to purify us and help us overcome these things that can dominate or control us.

Abstinence is a sacrifice of something I know that I like and is good for me, but I willingly give up as a sacrifice to God. As Catholics, we are called to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we are called to abstain from meat and to fast (eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal).

Editor: Lent is also a very special time for those joining the church, correct?

Bishop Vásquez: Yes, during Lent the baptized are called to renew their baptismal commitment as others prepare to be baptized. From ancient times Lent has been a season to prepare those who seek to become Catholic and enter the church.

Our catechumens have been praying and studying the faith for many months and they are now entering into their final stages of preparation to receive the sacraments at the Easter Vigil. Now that they have announced their intent and desire to become Catholic, the church chooses them and they are called the elect. We as a church should be cheering them on. Let us pray for them, encourage them and welcome them as they enter this family, this community of believers -- this mystical body of Christ.

Editor: The Chrism Mass is March 26. What happens at this special Mass?

Bishop Vásquez: In our diocese, the Chrism Mass is held on the Tuesday of Holy Week. It is a very special Mass because the church gathers to remember that Christ is the anointed one of God. Therefore, during this Mass, I bless the oils the church uses for anointing. First the oil of the sick or infirmed is blessed. This oil is used during the sacrament of the anointing of the sick to strengthen us to trust Christ in our illness so that we do not despair. Then the oil of catechumens is blessed. This is the oil used to bless those who are entering the church to strengthen against temptation and evil. Finally, the sacred Chrism is blessed. Chrism is used to consecrate churches, to anoint babies at baptism and to anoint the hands of priests during ordination.

The balsam in the Chrism fills the church with the fragrance of Christ and we are called to carry the fragrance of Christ into the world as we proclaim Jesus to others. Following the Chrism Mass, the newly blessed oils are distributed to the parishes of the diocese so that they can be used in the sacraments.

Editor: What is your prayer for all of us as we move toward the great celebration of the Resurrection?

Bishop Vásquez: May our Lord Jesus Christ bless us as we observe the season of Lent with his grace, mercy and healing. Through our sacrifice, prayer and penance, may we allow the Lord to work in us so that we can more deeply embrace the risen Lord at Easter. Let us enter into the Paschal Mystery -- the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ – with praise and thanksgiving. Amen.

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez is The fifth bishop of the Austin Diocese, which is home to more than 700,000 Catholics. For details, visit the diocesan website at austindiocese.org.

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