Each year on the occasion of Lent, the Church invites us to a sincere review of our life in light of the teachings of the Gospel.
Commencing this year on Ash Wednesday, February 18, this Lenten journey leads us to the celebration of Easter and is, for the Church, a most valuable and important liturgical time.
This time is marked by prayer and sharing, silence and fasting, in anticipation of the joy of Easter. It is a prime time to renew our journey of faith, both as individuals and as a community, with the help of the word of God and the sacraments.
It is a time of growth, of new graces, but also of penance, and Lent also invites us into a time of challenge and opportunity.
It is the time which challenges us to open our hearts and take the journey to new life, and it is the time when we may take the opportunity to encourage in ourselves a detachment from some of the pleasures and pastimes which can dominate our daily lives.
I believe there is a call this Lent to take up some special ways of doing voluntary penance. I would like to challenge you, as I challenge myself, to decide on some acts of fasting or penance.
We do not need to return to the days of earlier times when Catholics did fast and abstained from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday in Lent.
Now we are only required to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. However, we can all choose to do some acts of penance in our own way, and we do understand that Lent is a time for self-denial through our generosity to others in need. In a practical way, we can contribute to the needy, especially through Project Compassion, and this contribution may be derived from saving the money we would have spent on those things we have given up for Lent.
We read of Jesus in the wilderness and are reminded that we also need to find our own wilderness places – firstly in our minds and hearts where we can be still and come to know and feel the presence of God.
Lent gives us the time to be rid of distractions and to look again at our lives and our world with eyes of faith. It is a time when we do need to look for those things which bring us life, which restore relationships, harmony and justice to our own lives as we begin moving towards the wonders of Holy Week and Easter.
To help Catholics live our Lent with greater dedication to the Lord Jesus, Pope Francis recently addressed a Lenten message to the Catholic world. He chose as his theme the words of Saint Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: ‘Though rich, Jesus became poor so that by his poverty you might become rich.’ Paul is writing to the wealthier churches of the Greek-speaking world to encourage them to share their financial resources with the poor Church of Jerusalem. The apostle is promoting generosity in giving and wishes to ‘test the genuineness of your love by your concern for others.’
Concern for others entails desiring what is good for them from every point of view: physical, moral and spiritual. Contemporary culture seems to have lost some sense of good and evil, yet there is a real need to reaffirm that good does exist and will prevail.
The good is whatever gives, protects and promotes life, brotherhood and communion. Responsibility towards others then, means desiring and working for the good of others, in the hope that they too will become receptive to goodness and its demands.
Sacred Scripture warns us of the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of ‘spiritual anaesthesia’ which numbs us to the suffering of others. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth, Therefore Pope Francis notes, ‘our consciences…need to be converted to justice, equality, and simplicity and sharing.’
The pontiff stated that there are many such cases of moral destitution and he laments that many ‘no longer see meaning in life or prospects for the future’ and have lost hope due to unemployment, unjust social conditions, or unequal access to education and healthcare. This type of destitution is invariably linked to the spiritual destitution which we experience when we turn away from God and reject his love, he says, because when we believe we can make do on our own, we are headed for a fall.
An antidote for this spiritual destitution can be found in the Gospel; the Lord asks us to be joyous heralds of this message of mercy and hope. Pope Francis explains that ‘Lent is a fitting time for self-denial,’ and that we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Reaching out to others and opening our hearts to their needs can become an opportunity for salvation.
In synthesis, our Lenten journey is a time in which we are invited to contemplate the Mystery of the Cross, so as to effect a deep conversion in our lives.
The Lenten period is a good time to recognise our weakness and to accept, through a sincere inventory of our life, the renewing Grace of the Sacrament of Penance, and walk resolutely towards Christ.
May the Holy Spirit sustain us in our Lenten resolutions and increase our concern and responsibility for human destitution, so that we can become merciful and act with mercy. In expressing this hope, I pray that each individual member of the faithful and every parish community in the Diocese of Sandhurst will undertake a fruitful Lenten journey. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you safe.
- Bishop Les Tomlinson, Catholic Diocese of Sandhurst, October, 2015