Pastoral Letter for Lent 2004
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Since June 2002, I have requested that we reflect on the links between prayer and mission in the Archdiocese of Melbourne by examining Novo Millennio Ineunte (hereafter N.M.I.) (John Paul II) very seriously.
During this Lenten season I ask that this reflection will gain even further depth.
The First Lenten Preface offers a wonderful door through which such links may be deepened within us all. It states:
“Each year you give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed. You give us a spirit of loving reverence for you, our Father, and of willing service to our neighbour. As we recall the great events that gave us new life in Christ, you bring the image of your Son to perfection within us.”
First, the preface prayer describes the 40 day Lenten season as a ‘joyful season’ of conversion to the Lord and his wonderful saving love.
There is real confusion in today’s Australian world about the meaning of joy. Like happiness, joy is often seen as something that we can buy. We may be able to buy something that brings temporary pleasure: we cannot buy joy. They must not be confused. Joy is a free gift from God.
This joyful season of Lent is an opportunity to be graced afresh by contemplating the face of Christ. All our efforts to evangelise in our new millennium here in the Archdiocese would be fruitless unless we ourselves have first “contemplated his face” (N.M.I. 16). It is the face of the One who has suffered, died and risen from the dead out of love for us. To be so loved by the God of love in the midst of all our sinfulness and human limitations, indeed, is a joyful experience. This is surely the starting point for the Lenten season and the key point in all evangelisation. It is all summarised in one word: conversion.
Conversion in the Church’s Tradition has always proposed three Lenten disciplines: prayer, fasting and acts of charity. I know that parishes will be providing many extra opportunities for prayer over these days of repentance. Greater attendance at Sunday and weekday Masses is something to be highly recommended. I hope that the participation in the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance over this time will be a real priority in all parishes. Eucharistic adoration and communal prayer services offer people an invitation to be touched, comforted and strengthened by the Lord. The Archdiocesan Lenten Parish Group Study kit for 2004, called A Voice says, “Go”, is another great possibility for groups this Lent. Also, at home I recommend a closer attention to times of prayer and fasting and moments of genuine devotion in family life. Such humble efforts help to make this Lent a real “training in holiness” (N.M.I. 31) for all of us.
Secondly, our preparation to more fittingly celebrate the Easter Mysteries includes “willing service to our neighbour”. All Christian conversion starts in the heart but never stays there. True conversion always seeks out acts of charity to give practical help to our neighbour in need. This is a vital aspect of evangelisation. The Arch-diocese of Melbourne has made special efforts with our contributions to Project Compassion over the years. Once again, please contribute generously this Lent.
I also encourage practical gestures of compassion to children. In this Lenten period, Pope John Paul II has stressed that children are so often victims of human selfishness in today’s world and deserve special attention.
Throughout most of Lent this year our focus in Contemplate-Launch Out is on Dialogue and Mission (N.M.I. 54-57). This topic is directed towards the importance of our missionary activity to those who do not believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. During this Lent, perhaps we could find ways in our neighbourhoods to share something of the importance of Jesus to those who do not believe in Him. Such efforts can start so simply. As Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta stated, ‘at least we can smile if nothing else.’
My dear people, in this Lenten season as we recall the saving events of Christ’s life within us, we pray toour Heavenly Father to “bring the image of your Son to perfection within us.”
+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.