Bishop is dreaming, rethinking priorities this Lent

Anne Marie Amacher
Bishop Thomas Zinkula reads Pope Francis’ “Let Us Dream” as part of his Lenten reflection.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Like the flock he shepherds in the Diocese of Davenport, Bishop Thomas Zinkula entered Lent better prepared than last year, when a pandemic upended everyone’s life three weeks into the Lenten season.

“To be honest, last year, I didn’t have the best Lent,” he said during a recent Catholic Messenger Conversations podcast. “It wasn’t impactful.” This year, “we have a better understanding of the pandemic. Nobody likes it, we haven’t made friends with it or embraced it, but we know it a little better now.”

In his Lenten letter (published Feb.11), “I talked about how we’ve been in a yearlong Lent. It has the feel of Lent. But, there’s hope on the horizon because there are vaccines now, and they are becoming more and more available. So that’s the context we find ourselves in for Lent this year.” Much like Lent, during the pandemic, “we’ve made sacrifices, stepped away from things, prayed.” Lent offers something far better than a vaccine: “It’s the hope of Easter, the resurrection of Christ.”


Bishop Zinkula has been reading Pope Francis’ new book, “Let Us Dream.” “People love it, it’s really good,” the bishop said. “He’s been talking about crises a lot these days in homilies. Sure enough, there it is (in the book). He says the basic rule of a crisis is that you don’t come out of it the same. So the pandemic is a crisis, but there are all kinds of crises in our lives.”

Pope Francis observed that you come out of a crisis better or worse, but never the same. “We’re tested, and we have a chance to change. That’s Lent, right?,” the bishop asked. “What are the crises in our lives in the midst of this big crisis, the pandemic? Something new can be created here, in the pandemic, but also in our lives and Lent can be a chance, a time to dream and rethink our priorities, what we value, what we want and what we seek.”

“I think, maybe, we can do that in a deeper way this year because of the pandemic. It’s an opportunity to look at things in a different way. There’s a passage from Deuteronomy: ‘I have today set before you life and good, death and evil. … Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live’ (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19).”

The bishop is contemplating this Lent: “How am I choosing life?” “How am I not choosing life?” “So, there’s discernment. There’s prayer. There’s reflection. There’s fasting. All these things can help us at this time. Because it’s the pandemic, there’s an opportunity to look at the crises in our lives and the things that we need to change.”

Would that include an examination of conscience? “That’s part of it, for sure,” the bishop said. “All those practices that we do, just in general, but in a more intense way during Lent, in the middle of a pandemic. I just think it’s a really huge opportunity, especially when there is hope on the horizon now with the vaccines. But there’s hope in a much bigger way in the resurrection of Christ.”

Returning to “Let Us Dream,” Bishop Zinkula said Pope Francis identifies three of his “personal COVIDs.” The first happened when the pope was 21 and got very sick and lost part of his lung. “That was a huge thing, transformative for him,” the bishop said. The pope’s second COVID experience, what he referred to as “the Covid of displacement” in his book, happened in 1986 when he went to Germany to improve his German and seek material for his thesis. The pope said he felt like “a square peg in a round hole.” He pined for his homeland. The third COVID experience happened 1990-1992 when his superiors sent the future pope to Córdoba in Spain because his way of exercising his leadership as a provincial and then a rector was perhaps too harsh.

“He was lonely, away from everybody. The pope learned from those COVID experiences,” Bishop Zinkula said. “What are our personal COVIDs that we could look at during Lent? That’s how I’m approaching it.”

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