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We are approaching Lent, that most spiritual and graced time.

Many of us think about what we should give up this year. But this season of Lent is so much more powerful than just giving up something. It is a time of grace, renewal and conversion. But what does that all mean?

Renewal and conversion are terms that can be easily misunderstood. Conversion is not only avoiding sin and evil to embrace Jesus and his saving action. Conversion is a lifelong turning toward a deeper and fuller relationship with Jesus, his Father and the Holy Spirit.

Conversion is not a one-time event. It is, rather, a lifetime of deepening our relationship with the Trinity and growing more and more into a faithful follower of Jesus.

Just as family life needs to be celebrated by gathering for holidays and birthdays to strengthen those ties, so it is in our family of grace we need those opportunities as well. Certainly weekday participation in Eucharist is the most obvious and necessary way to do this. At a time like Lent we are invited to go beyond the ordinary.

For some, daily participation in Eucharist is a wonderful opportunity for growth and development.

Praying over the Scriptures at home can also be a rich source of growth. Many families practice giving to the Rice Bowl program, where they can take what they would have spent for a meal during the week, instead donating that money to the poor and contenting themselves with a simple meal of soup and bread. Lent is a wonderful time for parental examples and words, by letting children see their parents’ faith and trust in Jesus and praying with them at the dinner table.

Everyone is busy and can find it difficult to set aside time for prayer and reflection. One of the opportunities we have is quiet reflection in our cars. Often we get into a car and turn on the ignition and the radio. Lent can be an opportunity to turn the radio off and spend the time in prayer and reflection while driving safely as well.

Lent is a wonderful time to look at the daily routines of our lives. We get used to a routine. We can fill it without thinking. Perhaps in Lent we can step back and look at our routine, and ask: Does it help us be better persons? Does it strengthen our relationship with those we love?

The daily readings in the liturgy of Lent are wonderful opportunities for us to reflect and pray about in our daily lives (available at www.usccb.org, click on “Readings”). If you are able to attend daily Mass, take some time and reflect on the Scripture for the day. If you are unable to go to Mass, look at these readings and pray about them.

It’s important to listen to the readings as today’s word to me from God. It’s not just about what happened in the past. It is about what God is telling me today. If I can listen with that sense of the immediacy of God’s word, I can discover meaning in it.

Lent is a time of grace, of new life. I would pray that all of us take advantage of Lent as the spring sun shines more warmly and flowers begin to bloom, as we find the time to enjoy and embrace that warmth and new life that is budding forth. So too Lent is a time of new life, a time to experience the love and the warmth of the Son.

Protecting children

Sexual abuse of children has again been an issue in our area in recent weeks.

There are no excuses or defense when we are faced with the despicable crime and sin of having children abused.

I have spoken to too many victims and the parents of victims to know that unless I have suffered the horror of abuse, I can never fully understand the pain and the havoc it causes.

I wonder, along with you, what causes a man who professes to be a disciple of Jesus to so betray the trust that has been inherent in the priesthood. I helped to craft the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, approved by the U.S. bishops in 2002. I was spokesman for the U.S. bishops’ conference in those difficult months. I have a passionate concern that we keep our children safe and secure. I feel strongly that one proven allegation of abuse should mean permanent removal from functioning as a priest, since the damage done to a victim is often continued for a lifetime. To leave a priest in ministry who has been proven to have molested a child is in my mind to perpetuate the harm done.

I have met more than 30 victim survivors from the Diocese of Camden and have apologized to each of them for the harm done to them. But an apology does not fully take away the pain and trauma of abuse. I continually pray that those who have suffered will be healed.

In the Diocese of Camden we continuously act to keep our children safe in any and all situations as far as is humanly possible and we report all abuse accusations to the proper public authorities.

We must never forget that, as the body of Christ, when one member suffers, so do we all.

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