Pastoral Letter for Lent 2003
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Lent is a 40 day period of prayer, fasting and acts of charity to prepare us to celebrate more fully the great Easter mysteries of our Catholic faith.
Its culmination is the Easter Vigil – the “Feast of feasts”. In a darkened Church, the priest processes through the Church and chants “Christ our light”. He then chants the beautiful Exsultet which emphasises the central boast of our salvation history that Christ has defeated the darkness of sin and evil and has ushered us into his kingdom of light by Baptism. Christ is the dawn that will never set. He is our hope and freedom in the midst of all our slaveries.
At present, “the night” of modern slaveries seems to engulf us. Australians more than ever resort to words such as “evil” and “darkness” referring to acts of terrorism, such as the Bali bombings or senseless murders, such as the gunning down of policemen in Melbourne some years ago. The scourge of drought and the devastation caused by bush fires has placed a veil of profound despair over many, especially our farmers. Family life is still under unbearable pressure, mainly because of marriage breakdown. The terrors of drug abuse and youth suicide too often are present. The “darkness” of a lack of logic and respect for the most vulnerable seems to bedevil the national conversation on embryos and refugees. Sex abuse, in family and society and even by a few members of the clergy, has confused and scattered the faith of many.
Dispelling these and other dark “nights” comes the blazing light of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Thanks be to God! Exult! Our Risen Lord continues to send “the pillar of fire to destroy the darkness of sin”.
The Exsultet further proclaims “Father, how wonderful your care for us! How boundless your merciful love! To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.” Most especially during Lent, Christians accept God’s mercy by repentance and conversion.
It is a time of more intense prayer and fasting. This can take so many different forms, for example, personal prayer at home or in front of the Blessed Sacrament in your parish Church. Particularly in this year, the rosary could be recited more fervently, using the new luminous mysteries that our Pope, John Paul II, has offered us. Responsible fasting can assist our prayer and penitential living and help us grow in union with Christ.
It is a time of almsgiving and acts of charity. The Archdiocese of Melbourne has always focused on shared giving via Project Compassion. Over the years, the Archdiocese has been extraordinarily generous to the poor and marginalised of the world. My hope is that this will increase and be seen as a form of our shared Lenten prayer.
It is above all a time of penance. So many parishes have embraced in typically imaginative ways the “Contemplate – Launch Out” pastoral focus which I launched in May 2002. The monthly focus for much of Lent 2003 is Penance, with particular emphasis on the Sacrament of Penance. I encourage all parishes and communities to enter fully into this focus.
I join with Pope John Paul in proposing a rediscovery of Jesus as “the one in whom God shows his compassionate heart and reconciles us fully with himself. It is the face of Christ that must be rediscovered through the Sacrament of Penance” (Apostolic Letter “Misericordia Dei” 2002). Reception of the Sacrament, especially individually, is to be given prominence. Returning to the frequent use of this beautiful sacrament is an aim all parishioners are asked to consider.
Small group discussion material called “The Loving Mercy of God” is available in the Archdiocese. Penitential services that prepare people to receive the sacrament are also a feature of many parishes. These too are encouraged. Such prayer paraliturgies are not sacraments. They can, however, assist people to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Rites 1 or 2) at a later time.
Lenten practices from our ancient Tradition have assisted countless Catholics over the centuries to embrace the Light of Christ in the midst of the darkness of much of our human activities. They will continue to assist us now.
I pray that you and your parish communities will prepare for Easter by a full immersion into the Lenten period of penance now beginning.. Only then can the Exsultet’s concluding words of immense hope addressed to God be truly proclaimed: “Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever, AMEN.”
+Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.