Lent is our journey, together


By Barb Arland-Fye

In Matthew’s Gospel reading that we heard proclaimed on Ash Wednesday (6:1-6, 16-18), Jesus instructs us, his disciples, to not make a show of our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Our personal, penitential practices are about dying to self, for the sake of others. These practices, done quietly and sincerely, take us beyond ourselves. The American ethos of individualism has no place on the Lenten journey, or in the Church, for that matter. “For it is in togetherness that we follow Jesus,” Pope Francis says in his Message for Lent, 2023. “Together too, as a pilgrim Church in time, we experience the liturgical year and Lent within it, walking alongside those whom the Lord has placed among us as fellow travelers,” the pope says.

Catholics with a pulpit — media influencers and columnists among them — have been discussing in recent days and weeks how to approach our Lenten journey. Some dismiss the ascetic practices of Lent, which can tempt their audiences, but Pope Francis makes it clear in his message that Lent is not a walk in the park. “Lenten penance is a commitment, sustained by grace, to overcoming our lack of faith and our resistance to following Jesus on the way of the cross,” the Holy Father says. “We need to set out on the journey, an uphill path that, like a mountain trek, requires effort, sacrifice and concentration.”

Pope Francis points out that “these requisites are also important for the synodal journey to which, as a Church, we are committed to making. We can benefit greatly from reflecting on the relationship between Lenten penance and the synodal experience.” Bishop Thomas Zinkula serves as a member of the writing team drafting the North American continental response for the World Synod of Bishops. He is committed to fostering a synodal ethos in our diocese — one of listening for understanding and building community on this journey as a diocesan Church. In a fractious era of polarization and suspicion, dying to self is all the more critical.


“The synodal process may often seem arduous, and at times we may become discouraged. Yet what awaits us at the end is undoubtedly something wondrous and amazing, which will help us to understand better God’s will and our mission in the service of his kingdom,” Pope Francis says. The goal is transfiguration, personal and ecclesial. For this transfiguration to become reality, the Holy Father proposes “two ‘paths’ in order to ascend the mountain with Jesus …”

First of the paths is to listen to Jesus, in the Word of God that we hear in the liturgy. We study daily Bible readings to hear God’s voice and we listen to the Lord “speaking to us through our brothers and sisters, especially in the faces of those who are in need,” Pope Francis says.

Second of the paths is to face reality and its daily struggles, hardships and contradictions. “Lent leads to Easter … a means of preparing us to experience the Lord’s passion and cross with faith, hope and love, and thus to arrive at the resurrection,” Pope Francis says. We are “to be ‘artisans of synodality’ in the ordinary life of our communities.”

What does our road map look like this Lent?

• Attend weekly Mass and, as circumstances permit, add daily Mass to your schedule.

• Participate in a parish Bible study.

• Attend your parish’s Lenten activities.

• Visit the CRS Rice Bowl website, www.crsricebowl.org, which contains resources for families, parishes and schools regarding Rice Bowl contributions. The website features stories of hope, reflections, prayer opportunities and meatless recipes. Spanish-speakers can go to www.crsplatodearroz.org for resources.

• Keep abreast of issues that the Iowa Catholic Conference is tracking on behalf of Iowa’s bishops. Visit the website at iowacatholicconference.org and follow issues such as Iowa MOMs, pro-life concerns, education, the death penalty, public safety, refugees, and conscience rights for medical professionals.

• Take quiet time in prayer. Pray for people with whom you disagree or dislike. Pray for a conversion of heart for ourselves and for people around the world. Pray for justice for all, a requisite for peace.

In the “Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word” (page 72), an editor observes: “While fasting, prayer, and almsgiving are certainly prescribed in order for individuals to grow in the image of Christ, they are also in place that we might better our dependence upon one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord.”

Barb Arland-Fye, Editor

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