Lenten Pastoral Message - 2018

My dear Brothers and Sisters

In his own Pastoral Message this Lent, Pope Francis writes:  “Lent surrounds us and enables us to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life.”

The Pope continues:  “With this message, I would like again to help the entire Church experience this time of grace anew with joy and in truth.  I will take my cue from the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:  “Because of the increase of iniquity, the love of many will grow cold (24:12).”

The Pope here is drawing our attention to the possibility and the reality where the community of believers, both individually and collectively, might well find itself in a period of great trials where false prophets will lead people astray and where LOVE, which is at the core of the Gospel becomes cold in the hearts of many.

In the light of this message, it is timely for each of us this Lent to have a good, long look at ourselves for every one of us can do better at loving others.  Of course, prayer, fasting and almsgiving are only successful if they lead to a more loving heart.

Having made this point, I wonder if we might pay special attention this Lent to “fasting”.  Pray and give to the poor by all means, eg through Project Compassion, but let us focus on fasting.  Now fasting is not just about giving up lollies and alcohol, for example for Lent, it is much deeper than this.

St John Chrysostom once said, “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others.  So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes, and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”

At the heart of Lent is actually “fasting” from indifference towards other people.  As Pope Francis said: “when we fast from indifference, we begin to feast on love. 

So, what are we going to give up this Lent?  I suggest we give up indifference to others.  It’s needed more than ever to ensure that the dignity of humanity is protected and strengthened.

We can even say that Lent is the perfect time to learn to love again.  Jesus certainly has shown us how to love by his life.  In fact, he loved so much that he lost his life, and we know from Jesus that death brings life.  We can’t fully live without dying, and loving others more can be a kind of ‘little death’ because it’s never easy.

But if we are to truly fast this Lent from indifference to others, we will need to work on strategies to do so, such as the checks and balances in our life.  We will have to be on guard and examine those blocks to loving as Jesus loved.

Because life can be so challenging, paying the bills, looking after the kids, dealing with crises, adjusting to old age, finding work, picking ourselves up from a failed marriage, feelings of depression and loneliness, we can forget that others can be in the same boat or even in a worse situation than ourselves.  By thinking about others in these circumstances, we can extend our concern for ourselves and include others, for whenever one of us is hurting or in distress, all of us are.

This is the attitude required in Lent.  Fasting from indifference is not easy and nor should it be.  If we need to confess the sin of indifference during the celebration of penance, then so be it.  Go to the Sacrament of Penance and say ‘sorry’ and know by saying sorry we can start again.

May this Lent be a new start for each of us, the Diocese of Townsville and the Catholic Church in Australia.  God knows our Church needs reforming in some of the ways identified by the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.  We all need reforming of one kind or another.

Lent greatly assists this change required in us all.  May we now surrender ourselves to this journey and participate faithfully and allow the grace of the Holy Spirit to change us so that at the end of Lent it won’t be business as usual, but the discovery of a new “me” in our fasting on indifference. 

Bishop of Townsville

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