Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On the first Sunday of Lent, we will hear the Gospel reading of Jesus going into the desert, where he remains for 40 days and is tempted by Satan. In the midst of this challenge, angels come to minister to him (Mark 1:12-13).
At times during this past year, we have also walked in the desert, separated from members of our family, parish and community because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has severely impacted people’s health, our economy and even the way we are able to practice our faith.
But the angels have been there, too. I’m grateful for the dedicated service of our pastors, parish and diocesan staff, and volunteers who continue to do the work of Christ and meet our spiritual needs in these trying times.
We’ve also learned some lessons along the way, like how to use technology better in service to the Church. But, while Zoom, YouTube and Facebook Live are wonderful tools, they don’t replace the very real human need for in-person ministry, service and social activities.
Livestreaming the celebration of the Eucharist has helped us to stay connected to our faith and one another during the pandemic. But it doesn’t replace actually being present together as the People of God for the sacrifice of the Mass. I hope this pandemic has fostered in us an even-deeper appreciation for Christ’s presence in his Body and Blood and for his presence in the Body of Christ with whom we worship.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins with the preparation of the gifts at the altar. These gifts — bread and wine offered by human hands — become the Body and Blood of Christ. We come forward together to receive this gift, the Eucharist, which brings us closer to Jesus and transforms our hearts, so that, through him, we can become “bread for the world’s bodily and spiritual hungers” (United States Catholic Catechism for Adults).
The theme of this year’s Bishop’s Annual Appeal is “Gifts Offered by Human Hands.” Why? Because it’s your generosity — your hands — that make possible the work of our Appeal ministries. These ministries provide essential education, pastoral care and other assistance to thousands of people across our 16-county diocese. They include the Diocesan TV Mass for the homebound which has been a spiritual lifeline for so many people during the pandemic. Other Appeal ministries support faith formation, family life, Catholic schools, multicultural ministry, evangelization and vocation-discernment.
These ministries are using new and creative ways to keep us connected when we’ve been required to stay apart. Our diocese, for example, held its first-ever “virtual” Stewardship Week last summer with three-days of online presentations on the spirituality and best-practices of parish stewardship. The diocesan education office launched a new resource in English and Spanish to assist families in reflecting on the Sunday Scripture readings. An online men’s conference is planned for later this month.
Please prayerfully discern a gift to the Appeal and join others around the diocese in supporting this work. As always, I promise your gift will only be used for Appeal ministries and not for any other purpose.
The Gospel writer Mark also tells us that “Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15). This Lent, may our practice of added prayer, fasting and charity strengthen us as we continue to walk the path of Christian conversion and discipleship.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Bishop Donald J. Kettler
(Bishop Kettler is the ninth bishop of the Diocese of St. Cloud, Minnesota.)