Pastoral Letter for Lent
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Running on Empty
After coping with a trying experience or coming to a point of emotional exhaustion it’s not uncommon for a person to describe themselves as like a car “running on empty.” You’ve got to stop and fill up.
Or you might feel like a flat battery – no spark left, no charge. Again it’s time to plug into the energy source.
Living in a tumultuous and perplexing world tied into the relentless daily news cycle of world-wide political conflicts, natural calamities, and unending evidences of human wickedness can be draining even for the best of us, and that’s before we even start to take into account the burden of our own weaknesses.
So Lent is upon us, six weeks of opportunity to look not so much at ourselves but to look upon God, to recharge, fill up, and check our direction of travel. As believers we should be grateful for this time, knowing that God is the source of our energy and He alone maps the course of our life to its true destiny.
Lent – the Big Picture
While Lent has its very personal and private character – entering into our private room and shutting the door, as Our Lord describes it – what we do there is again not just about personal salvation but the salvation of the world. It’s as big as that. A Christian writer as early as the second century stated a great truth: “what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world.” By all our acts of faith, hope and love, the world benefits, our neighbour benefits.
How can that happen? Well, most of the people we meet who have a secular view of things might still say they believe in God, but they ‘are not religious.’ That usually means that what’s really ‘real’ to them is the concrete material and scientifically provable world around them, with its goods and pleasures. But anything that depends on faith, in their view, is not really ‘real’, but a ‘religious’ person’s unprovable opinion.
Isn’t there something more?
While we have very good reasons for believing, ‘I’m not a religious person’ rarely comes to faith by the force of logical argument. People as a rule do not come to faith by argument and proof, but by example. They see a fullness and a richness and a strength in somebody who is a believer that becomes very attractive when a moment of grace comes to them: they come to sense their own emptiness, a discontent that there is not more to life than just the things that senses and feelings can enjoy.
So, its out of our inner – we would say spiritual – fullness, that comes from more strongly embracing God’s gift to us, that we can be used as instruments to lead others to discover the interior fulfilment that comes from faith. What the soul is to the body, that are Christians in this world.
Lent is a time for a quiet and prayerful looking at God, from whom we come and to whom we go. Is the good Lord the absolute foundation of my life, or has the noble life of faith become a sort of spirituality pursued on my own terms?
Last September Pope Benedict beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, the greatest Christian thinker and spiritual writer in the English language of the nineteenth century, and some would say among the greatest in the Church’s history. It is well known that as a famous Anglican clergyman and teacher, at the midpoint of his life, in 1845, Newman embraced the Catholic faith. He was ordained a priest several years later in Rome and created a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII in 1879.
Two supreme beings, myself and my Creator
But even more importantly Newman had undergone an earlier conversion, which was to be the foundation of what came later. It happened, he recalled, when he was a boy of fifteen, a conversion which “confirmed me in my mistrust of material phenomena, and making me rest in the thought of two and two only supreme and luminously self-evident beings, myself and my Creator.”
This Lent it would be a good thing to aim at ‘resting’ in the same thought. Nothing else in all the world is as ‘real’ as myself and my Creator. And in all the world, ultimately, there is no other choice as to who I will love and please and serve: myself or my Creator.
Like all the saints before us and indeed around us today, this is the first step, the foundation on which we are invited to build during Lent. This is the time which our heavenly Father has established for His children “to purify their minds, so that, freed from all inordinate desires, they may so use the things of this passing world as to hold more firmly to the things of eternity.” (Second Preface of Lent, new translation).
Baptism, the beginning
Two sacraments relate especially to Lent. The first is Baptism, which Pope Benedict has made the theme of his Lenten message for this year. Baptism was the first moment when each of us received the infusion of Divine grace, the very life of God Himself, into our souls, a presence that has never left us for a second since.
Considering the anniversaries we never forget like birthdays and weddings and the death of loved ones, how many of us actually remember the day of our Baptism into Christ as a personal anniversary to remember and to celebrate each year?
If you can do so physically, or at least by picturing it in your mind’s eye, try to make a pilgrimage during Lent to the church of your baptism, and stand there at the font and picture the scene. Consider for a while what happened to you there. Every shred and fibre of your being, to its absolute core, transformed by a second birth in that grace-filled water, making you a true adopted son, a daughter of the living God. A mark indelibly impressed on your soul, sealing you as God’s own, by which that life of the Trinity in you will be recognised and make you known not merely in this life but in the forever-ness of eternity. The Pope invites us this Lent to revisit the meaning of our baptism.
A second plank after shipwreck
Despite the grace of baptism, which removes from us the inheritance of original sin, our human nature remains wounded and makes us prone to actual sin. Very early in her history the Church reached out for the Lord’s further gift in the Sacrament of Penance. It was spoken of as ‘a second plank after shipwreck.’ Its effect is to take away personal sins committed after baptism, and the punishment due to them. The call to the practice of Penance and its sacrament is one we should take especially to heart during Lent.
A good confession to a priest in the Sacrament of Penance brings about our reconciliation with God and the Church. The Lord’s healing touch in the absolution we receive brings a joy and a peace all of its own. Because this Sacrament restores or increases supernatural grace in the soul it has the power to spur us on to those works of charity and other good works we are called to perform during Lent. This is the way we die more and more to ‘self‘ so that we can rise more completely with Our Lord at Easter.
Helping others by our Lenten penance
Just as the living of our faith has a capacity to cause faith and hope to flow into others, so our practice of penance can be used by God to stir up grace in the souls of others who are in need of mercy and forgiveness. In receiving a sacrament faithfully we open up a channel of grace through which God can pour graces beyond our own need into the souls of others. This is a real Lenten work of charity towards the spiritual good perhaps of other members of our own family.
Empty tanks and flat batteries render our cars immobile. We don’t hesitate to fill up and recharge. The forty days of Lent are specially blessed by the Lord to get us spiritually moving again in faith, hope and love — for our own good and the good of a world desperately in need of a heart and a soul.
Yours devotedly in Christ,
+ Geoffrey Jarrett,’¨
Bishop of Lismore.
Go to the Pope’s Lenten message on www.vatican.va, click on the photo of Pope Benedict and then on ‘Messages’ to the left.