WASHINGTON, DC — Draw near to the Lord! That entreaty from the Gospel of Luke 15:1 was the theme of a virtual Lenten day of recollection hosted on Thursday, March 10. 2022, by the evangelization staff of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA (AMS), for U.S. Military-affiliated Catholics based worldwide. “It would be a mistake for us to think that we can go out in search of the Lord, and when we find Him, to draw near to Him,” said Auxiliary Bishop William (Bill) Muhm, giving the main reflection. “No,” he said, “we draw near to Him by allowing Him to draw near to us.”
Citing scripture, Bishop Muhm gave numerous examples of how Christ drew near not only to His disciples and those who accompanied Him on the Way of the Cross but also to sinners including tax collectors. Bishop Muhm, AMS Episcopal Vicar for U.S. Military installations in Europe and Asia, noted how Jesus called a tax collector to be His disciple, publicly pardoned a sinful woman, and became a friend of sinners. “If Jesus had not drawn near to them first, they could not have drawn near to Him. But He did—and so they responded by drawing near to Him.”
One way the Lord draws near to us is through the sacraments of the Catholic Church, Bishop Muhm said, and “He invites us to draw near to Him through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving or charitable service to others.” Bishop Muhm asked, “for what purpose” does the Lord draw near to us? “For our eternal salvation in the next life? YES! For our quality of life in this life, YES! But also for the sake of evangelizing others in this life”!
The AMS hosted the same 90-minute Lenten day of recollection at two times on Thursday—6:00-7:30 a.m. (EST) and 2:00-3:30 p.m. (EST)—to give military Catholics stationed in different time zones convenient access. Nearly one-hundred active-duty Catholics, their spouses, and Catholic U.S. Military chaplains participated virtually on military installations across the United States and abroad, including: Scott Air Force Base (AFB), Illinois; Joint Base (JB) Lewis McChord, Washington State; Travis AFB, California; Port Hueneme, California; U.S. Army Garrison (USAG) Stuttgart, Germany; Fort Hood, Texas; Royal Air Force (RAF) Croughton, UK; JB Langley-Eustis, Virginia; USAG Wiesbaden, Germany; Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Vandenberg Space Force Base (SFB), California; JB San Antonio, Texas; Allied Joint Force Command (JFC) Brunssum, Netherlands; Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona; Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico; Fort Lee, Virginia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Gordon, Georgia; Yokota Air Base (AB), Japan; NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Base Geilenkirchen, Germany; and USAG White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico.
His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, implored participants to “aim high” in their spiritual lives. “During this season of conversion,” he said, “let us renew our faith, draw from the ‘living water’ of hope, and receive with open hearts the love of God, who makes us brothers and sisters in Christ…. The purpose of this time of drawing closer and centering ourselves more completely on Christ is not intended to be some superhuman effort or contest. It is rather an ordering, an examination of our priorities to make certain that Jesus Christ is central…. The challenge is to avoid being bogged down into too many temporal questions: how important am I? How beautiful or handsome can I be? How much money can I make, how many beautiful clothes are mine. Is my house the best I can get? Certain questions are important, but they pale into insignificance when placed next to our goal: Seek the Kingdom of God.”
The AMS virtual Lenten day of Recollection, which opened with prayer and included breakout sessions, as well as, large group faith sharing, was the second of its kind to be hosted by the Archdiocese over the past year. This first was held March 24, 2021, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way of bringing AMS faithful spread worldwide together in a safe, socially distanced gathering. “The pandemic inspired us to find creative ways to connect and gather with the faithful in this global Archdiocese,” said Mr. José Amaya, AMS Director of Faith Formation, who coordinated both events. “It would be impossible to gather people physically from so many installations for a short retreat that the virtual opportunities offer. The virtual Lenten reflection is a moment to connect, pray, reflect and animate one another to experience how the Lord Jesus Christ draws near to us through prayer, fasting, almsgiving and being present to those who may be longing for Christ’s merciful love.”
The reflection videos and resources for Lent are now available on the AMS website for priest-chaplains to create their own onsite or virtual Lenten days of reflection at milarch.org/virtual-lenten-retreat/. The hope is, those who join will share the fruits of their reflections, not only within Catholic communities but also among non-Catholics serving globally in the U.S. Military. As Bishop Muhm said, “for the sake of evangelizing others in this life”!