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To the Reverend Clergy, Monastics and Faithful of the Diocese of the West

The sun hid its rays, the moon and stars were changed to blood;
the mountains shook with fear, the hills trembled, when Paradise was shut.
As he departed, Adam struck his eyes with his hands and said:
“O merciful Lord, have mercy on me who am fallen!”
(Cheesefare Sunday Vespers)

Dearly beloved,

We have now completed the preparatory weeks, which lead us to Great Lent. We know that we enter the Fast on Cheesefare Sunday, when we put aside the last of the delicacies of this world to order a more Spartan diet of self-denial. We know that this entrance is also after we bow down before each other and ask mutual forgiveness. But we often forget that the liturgical “theme” of this last day before the Fast is a remembrance of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise.

All the pre-Lenten Sundays have formed in us two realities: first that we reside not in Paradise, for which we are created. We are expelled from Paradise by our sins, by our selfishness, by our insistence on feeding every appetite that rears its ugly head in our souls. We live every day of our lives in the desert outside the Gates of Paradise, living by the sweat of our brows.

And second, the Fast is not about me. My fasting, my self-denial, my prayer, my repentance, indeed, all my effort, is not measured by how “good” it makes me. It is all measured in how much it makes me reflect Christ. The desire of Zacchaeus, the humility of the Publican, the profound understanding of exile and return of the Prodigal Son, and the least of the brethren, which is the basis of the Last Judgment, the forgiveness we are called to give and receive, all make it abundantly clear that the journey to salvation is not about me. It is about the other — if we avoid foods, say more prayers, come to services and confess our sins, but are still bitter, hard-hearted souls, and do not see Christ in each other, we have not fasted at all. May all of our efforts, feeble as they may be, lead us to each other and then to Christ. Let Christ fill the space that is created by hunger and effort!

I ask your forgiveness as we enter into this tithe of the year and wish for all my faithful parishes and each and every one of you a most fruitful and joyous Fast. May we all rejoice in the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection at the end of these most holy days.

With love in Christ,

Archbishop of San Francisco

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