Pastoral Letter for Lent 2002
My dear brothers and sisters,
World peace needs peace of heart. The contrast of light and darkness depicted in the liturgy during the Christmas season just passed is particularly poignant this year. In the words of St. John, "the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining" (1 John 2: 8).
This contrast is played out in our every day life. The darkness of 11th September and the scourge of terrorism are all too real. We know the horror of bush fires and the pain inflicted on many families. We regret the seeming inability of people of different faiths to achieve peace in the Middle East and beyond.
Yet we observe in the midst of all this the "light" of the heroism of emergency service people and people of peace and the hidden strength of families under enormous strain. For us Christians, Jesus Christ is the light of the world. Our central belief as Catholics is, "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" (John 1: 5).
Pope John Paul II wrote to us on 1st January 2002 in his message for the World Day of Peace: "There is no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness" (n.15). Earlier he stated, "I would reaffirm that forgiveness inhabits people's hearts before it becomes a social reality" (n.8). This great insight needs to be pondered in our communities because so many feel powerless to make any real contribution to peace within the complexity of the social realities of today. But each of us can make a personal contribution to world peace by making forgiveness and conversion in our hearts a priority.
For us Catholics this conversion of heart is wonderfully celebrated in the season of Lent. We come to the Father of mercies through prayer, fasting and works of love, so that not only our mind and hearts are renewed, but we make our contribution to our community, our city and the world.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Confession) is a privileged means by which we can receive forgiveness and renewal from the Lord of all mercies through his Church.
In his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Oceania (2001, n.41) on the Church in our part of the world, John Paul II acknowledges how many still struggle in understanding this Sacrament. He states, "especially in developed societies, many of the faithful are confused or indifferent about the reality of sin and the need for forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance. At times, the true sense of human freedom is not understood".
The Pope reiterated the call from the Bishops of Oceania in stating clearly, "that a more extensive catechesis be offered on personal responsibility, the reality of sin and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so as to remind Catholics of the loving mercy of Jesus Christ, made available through this Sacrament and of the need for sacramental absolution for serious sin committed after Baptism. Because of the assistance to spiritual progress provided by this Sacrament, priests are to be encouraged not only to make the Sacrament of Reconciliation an important part of their own lives, but to ensure its availability on a regular basis as a vital part of their ministry to the faithful".
At the beginning of this season of renewal I invite all of you to join me in reflecting seriously on these challenges. It is not sufficient to bemoan the parlous state of the world without attempting to see where the darkness of sin has infected our own hearts. It is also simply not enough either to locate such "heart darkness" without using this renewed awareness to propel us to embrace the merciful kindness of Jesus, in a deeper way in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. By so doing we are really making a contribution to world peace.
Along with John Paul II in Novo Millennio Ineunte (2001, n.37), I invite our priests and all parish leaders and teachers to a "renewed pastoral courage in ensuring that the day-to-day teaching of Christian communities persuasively and effectively presents the practice of the Sacrament of Reconciliation".
This could include regular presentation of material in homilies on the value of the sacrament for spiritual progress; the more regular availability during Lent for individual Confession before or after weekday Mass; the provision of some reflection material to help people prepare for the Sacrament; a Lenten service of the Word following some of the examples given in the back the Dwyer Rite of Penance; and a celebration of the Second Rite with common preparation and individual Confession so as to emphasise Lent as a time of spiritual growth and forgiveness.
The traditional program of Lent for us all involves fasting, prayer and works of love.
Jesus fasted for 40 days, as an expression of his total commitment to his Father's plan (Matthew 4:1/4). The Fathers of the Church show fasting makes us ready for nourishment of another kind, the food of the word of God and the fulfilment of the Father's word.
Fasting is closely connected to prayer; it strengthens virtue, inspires mercy, implores divine assistance and leads to conversion of heart.
Prayer is a central moment in which we listen to God and fill "the void" created in us by the purification of fasting. In addition to the great prayer of the Mass, and reflecting on the Word of God, regular availability of Eucharistic Adoration can enable us to ponder with the Lord the wonder of his love and conform our mind and heart to his.
Works of Love
Lent involves a conversion of heart. Our heart must be the starting point for the building of peace; it is through the heart that God acts, judges, heals and saves. Our attempts to reach out to others in our parish, family and community can be intensified during Lent, nourished by fasting, prayer and clear vision. The events of the last five months and the response of Christians to them are an invitation to each of us to enter Lent with new fervour and enthusiasm filled with hope that if we move forward with Christ, "the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining". (1 John 2: 8).
As we prepare for the celebration of the Lord's passion and resurrection at Easter I invite you to walk with me in the journey of conversion and renewal so that in peace of heart we can make our contribution to the life of our world.
Yours sincerely in Christ,
+Denis J. Hart
Archbishop of Melbourne