As we look forward to the Easter season, we look back on Bishop Ralph’s Pastoral Letter which was read in churches across the Diocese on the first Sunday of Lent. This gives us an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which we each as individuals observed Lent as a preparation for the great Feast of the Resurrection.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ
Once again the season of Lent is upon us. During these days we join the Christian family throughout the world on the annual Lenten pilgrimage that will take us to the feast of Easter.
The word Lent is derived from an old English word meaning springtime. In Latin, lente means slowly. So the season of Lent points to the coming of spring and new life and, at the same time, invites us to slow down our lives so as to be able to take stock.
One of the richest images we have for Lent is the image of the desert. It is this image that is presented to us every first Sunday of Lent. This year, we have Mark’s account of this special period in the life of Jesus when he went into the desert for forty days and forty nights. In today’s gospel, Mark speaks of Satan, wild beasts and angels. Other accounts speak of fasting, privation and hunger. On first reading, therefore, the desert doesn’t seem like a place where much growth can take place. And yet it was here, away from some of the natural supports that daily life offers, – food, water, companionship – that Jesus was able to experience in a new way his dependence on the Father and his need to surrender to him in deeper trust. It was immediately after this, too, the time had come for him to announce the Kingdom. So it could be said that Jesus’ desert experience helped him to grow into a deeper relationship with his Father and a greater sense of responsibility for and commitment to, the brothers and sisters entrusted to his care.
The invitation and challenge of Lent each year, then, is to let go of some of the little securities and protections of life, in order that we might, like Jesus in the desert, find ourselves more aware of the daily call to deepen our surrender to God and of our responsibility for one another.
In his Lenten Message this year, Pope Francis draws our attention to what he calls, the “globalisation of indifference” of God and neighbour, and warns that it can be a real temptation, even for members of the Christian family. This is a good reason, he says, why, “Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”
He offers three ways in which we might use the season of Lent to help us to grow in love of the Father and our neighbours and avoid this spirit of indifference. First, he says, we can pray in communion with the Church on earth and in heaven. And, of course, there is no better prayer to pray in communion with the Church than the daily celebration of Eucharist. I know that Lent is a time when many make an extra effort to celebrate Mass during the week as well as Sunday. “Let us not underestimate the power of so many voices at prayer,” he says.
Secondly, we can show our concern for those less fortunate than ourselves near and far by sharing the fruits of our self-denial with them. “Lent,” he says, “is a favourable time for showing this concern for others by small yet concrete signs of our belonging to the one human family.”
Finally, he calls us to pay closer attention to the suffering of others. Sadly, we are never short of images of those who suffer as a result of war, disasters or lack of basic commodities. Paying attention to the sufferings of others, he says, can be a call to personal conversion since it reminds us of the uncertainty of our own lives and of our dependence on God and one another.
I pray, then, that our Lenten pilgrimage will be a fruitful time for us all when we grow in love of the God who first loved us and in generosity towards those who need our support.
Have a happy and holy Lent.
Yours sincerely in Christ, the Redeemer
+Ralph Heskett C.Ss.R